Apple Doesn’t Need a Monopoly to Lock You Into Your iPhone

iMessage is still the stickiest part of iOS

Eric Ravenscraft
OneZero
Published in
6 min readMay 17, 2019

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Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

AApple is facing a crucial battle over one of its core moneymakers. Thanks to a ruling against the company by the Supreme Court this week, Apple will have to successfully argue that its App Store doesn’t constitute a monopoly. Part of the company’s case — that users are free to buy apps from other platforms — is undercut by another product with an inescapable, blue-bubbled grip on iPhone users: iMessage.

In the recent case of Apple v. Pepper, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Apple could be sued for allegedly driving up prices of apps and preventing its customers from using third-party app stores. “The plaintiffs allege that, via the App Store, Apple locks iPhone owners ‘into buying apps only from Apple and paying Apple’s 30% fee, even if’ the iPhone owners wish to ‘buy apps elsewhere or pay less,’” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority’s decision.

Apple has argued that its closed platform is necessary to protect users from malware. It has also argued that if users don’t like prices on the App Store, they’re welcome to switch to another platform like Android and buy their apps from Google’s Play Store. There’s just one problem with this argument: Apple makes it incredibly hard to switch platforms. And a major part of that lock is its proprietary texting service.

iMessage is the default messaging service on Apple products. If you have an Apple device and send a message to someone else with an Apple device, you get to use iMessage and all its accompanying bells and whistles, like Animoji. You live in the blue bubble. But if you communicate with anyone who’s not on an Apple platform, they get a regular SMS message. They’re a lower-class green bubble.

At first, it might seem like there’s no problem. Apple is simply providing extra features on top of SMS — an outdated texting method to begin with — for its customers, while still making it possible to text the plebs on other platforms. It’s a value-add — until users try to leave for another platform.

Anabel Quan-Haase, professor of information, media studies, and sociology at the University of Western Ontario, found that switching from an iPhone to Android came…

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Eric Ravenscraft
OneZero

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.