A confusingly-worded section of Apple’s iOS 16 feature list sparked claims that the company took credit for a feature Google added to its Messages app earlier this year. However, it seems Apple isn’t taking credit — it just added a similar capability to iOS 16.
David Imel, a writer and researcher for MKBHD, spotted Apple’s new claim on the iOS 16 feature page and shared the find on Twitter. Under the ‘Messages’ section is the heading “SMS Tapbacks on Android,” which says:
“React to SMS messages with a Tapback, and a corresponding emoji reaction will appear on recipients’ Android devices.”
Tapback is the name Apple gave to iMessage reactions — those tiny emojis that you can add to messages you receive. Apple added these to its Messages app years ago, but while they were fun for iMessage (blue bubble) users, they were a little odd with the old SMS and MSS (green bubbles) standards. Replying to SMS messages with a Tapback would send an SMS text to the other person in the conversation with something like “Loved ‘Text'” or “Laughed at ‘Text.'”
— David ImeI (@DurvidImel) September 28, 2022
At least, that’s how it was until January 2022. Google added a feature to its Messages app for Android that transforms incoming Tapbacks into emoji reactions. In other words, instead of “Loved ‘Text,'” users would just see a 😍 emoji appear on the message bubble with ‘Text.’
It’s that feature addition that Apple appears to reference on the iOS 16 feature page. And while the language is definitely confusing, Droid-Life pointed out that Apple is talking about a different feature entirely. Apparently, iOS 16 changed the Tapback function to send an emoji instead of text (i.e. instead of “Loved ‘Text,'” you’d get “😍 to ‘Text'”). The publication also shared an image illustrating the difference between Apple’s improved Tapback feature in iOS 16 and Google’s Messages feature:
The whole thing is undeniably confusing, arguably because both Apple and Google keep implementing weird changes in a patchwork attempt to make messaging between iPhone and Android suck less. Something that could be resolved if Apple just adopted RCS. But, Apple has blatantly refused to do so, and here we are.
Apple still refuses to adopt RCS
As a quick refresher on the situation, RCS is a new messaging standard created by Google (and carriers, although Google seems to have largely left carriers behind to make RCS globally available). RCS replaces the older SMS and MMS standards, enabling a modern messaging experience with higher res photo and video sharing, better group chat support, and more.
Meanwhile, Apple “solved” the SMS and MMS problem by creating iMessage, its own modern messaging platform that only works between Apple devices. iMessages appear in blue bubbles and have a ton of extra features, like Tapbacks, better image and video sharing, group chats, and more. However, when an iPhone user messages someone without an iPhone, it falls back to SMS/MMS (shown with green bubbles) and all those extra features people have come to love vanish. The difference is so drastic that it’s started causing social issues — for example, kids exclude people who don’t have iPhones from groups just because of the green bubble.
Now, it’s worth noting that this problem is significantly worse in North America, where iPhone adoption is generally higher. In many other regions, most people rely on third-party messaging services like WhatsApp, regardless of which smartphone brand they use.
Still, people have called for Apple to add support for RCS, which would significantly improve the default iPhone-to-Android messaging experience. Google has also embarked on a campaign to shame Apple into supporting RCS. Apple wouldn’t even need to scrap iMessage to do it — RCS could still be part of the green bubbles. But, Apple has made it clear it has no plans to make this happen, to the point that CEO Tim Cook publicly told someone to buy an iPhone to resolve green bubble messaging issues.
And the reason Apple is so keen to keep the subpar SMS experience around is that iMessage is an effective tool to keep people using iPhones. That thought process was revealed during the Epic Games trial when emails from Apple execs were published detailing how Apple relies on iMessage to lock customers into the platform.