Green Bubbles: How Apple Quietly Gets iPhone Users To Hate Android Users

from the design-choices-matter dept

Paul Ford, once again, has written up something fascinating. He discusses something I had no idea happened: when an iPhone user texts with another iPhone user using iMessage, the outgoing texts appear in calm blue bubbles. When an iPhone user texts with a non-iPhone user (or an iPhone user using something other than iMessage — meaning mainly Android users, obviously), those outgoing texts are in a harsh green. Here are the two examples Paul shows, starting with the iPhone to iPhone:

And then the Android to iPhone:
As noted, I had no idea that this happened, because I don’t own an iPhone. There is one slight functional reason for this: users may have to pay for SMS messages, but not for iMessages, and thus it could have an impact on a bill. But here’s the more interesting tidbit, which is the crux of Ford’s article: lots of people absolutely hate those green bubbles. As he notes, if you do a Twitter search on “green bubbles” you’ll see an awful lot of anti-green-bubble sentiment. Here are just a few examples I quickly found (Paul has others in his article).

Those are just some of the anti-green-bubble messages from the past 24 hours. There are actually a lot more, and it goes on and on. It’s kind of amazing just how many people are tweeting about their hatred for green bubbles.

Ford, then goes into a really interesting discussion on the nature of product management and design choices — the kind of thing that Apple doesn’t do on a whim — to get to the real point: Apple is likely choosing harsh, ugly green bubbles on purpose. As a petty way to put down Android users:

Apple must know by now that the people of the blue bubbles make fun of the people of the green. And I guess if I worked at Apple I?d be pretty psyched with this reaction. After all, what is a more powerful brand amplifier than social pressure? If people who converse in green bubbles start to feel relatively poor, or socially inferior, because they chose to use a less-expensive pocket supercomputer than those made by Apple, that could lead to iPhone sales. Ugly green bubbles = $$$$$ and promotions.

But I think the ugly green bubbles are the result of a mean-spirited, passive-aggressive product decision, marketed in a mean-spirited way. Certainly it?s not a crisis in capitalism. This is not to say that Google is good and Apple is bad; they?re both enormous structures that have so much power that they can manufacture their own realities (except for Google Glass, then not so much).

The bubbles are a subtle, little, silly thing but they are experienced by millions of people. That amplifies that product descision into a unsubtle, large, serious-yet-still silly thing. The people who are tweeting about green bubbles are following Apple?s lead. It?s not unprecedented; Apple has done stuff like this before, like giving Windows machines on its network a ?Blue Screen of Death? icon. But people spend so much time texting that it adds up.

Beyond highlighting Apple’s apparent pettiness (and lack of ability to allow users to customize things for themselves), it also highlights how very minor design decisions do matter in a fairly big way. I recognize that some people like to get into tech fanboy wars: iPhone v. Android, Mac v. Windows v. Linux, Playstation v. Xbox, etc. That’s going to happen, even if it mostly seems like a waste of time. But, really, using subtle design choices to highlight and further such fights seems to show such a childish attitude to competition. Good competitors focus on making their own products better, not demeaning the competition. It’s when they run out of good ideas that the focus shifts to attacking the competition. Apple has done so many things right with the iPhone in pushing the barriers of innovation, it would be better if they just focused on making the overall customer experience better, rather than trying to offer subtle digs at non-iPhone users.

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Comments on “Green Bubbles: How Apple Quietly Gets iPhone Users To Hate Android Users”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Honestly, I’m as up for Apple criticism as anyone, but this is looking for a story where one doesn’t really exist. Before iMessage, *all* texts used green bubbles on iOS, so unless you want to argue that they hated their users then, this doesn’t quite parse.

(Yes, it wasn’t the exact same green as before the interface overhaul, but iMessage was introduced in the pre-iOS7 look and the green bubbles for SMS stayed the same.)

Dave Cortright says:

Re: looks like a molehill to me

I’m with the coward on this one. I am an interface designer, and I don’t think Apple is trying to send any negative message with the green. Think about how green is used in our environment: green means go; green means thriving plant life; green means living ecologically and sustainably; green mean all systems operational; and green literally means “right” (starboard) when it comes to boats.

What I think happened is that blue was introduced and it was so much better (no 160 character limits, emojis supported, free, etc) that people started to associated inferior with green. Much like the word president when it was adopted was actually chosen specifically because it was a humble, meager title. Yet the meaning we infer from it changes based on the context and reality,

Ven says:

Makes sense as long as we ignore history

This does seem to be completely in line with the petty BS Apple pulls now and then.

Except prior to iMessage all text messages were sent over SMS and were in green bubbles. If this is really Apple pettiness then it has to be one of the longest well planned out move of pettiness in history.

Ven says:

Re: Re: Makes sense as long as we ignore history

They may have changed colors in iMessage just to distinguish it from traditional SMS messages, companies like to remind people of their wonderful features for completely non-evil reasons. Some times that goes horribly wrong and you get Clippy popping up every 30 seconds.

They may also have picked a calming blue because when iMessage first came out it was a buggy troublesome piece of crap for many users. A more calming color may have help acceptance. It’s gotten much better since then.

You can do a Google image search for “iphone text message” to see plenty of examples. Both the SMS and iMessage colors got darker when they switched from glossy rounded bubbles to flat colors. But that changes wasn’t in connection with iMessage, but a separate interface overhaul.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Makes sense as long as we ignore history

It seems to me Apple employed a fairly basic interface here.

Grey – outbound messages
Green – SMS
Blue – iMessage

SMS messages are green because it appears they have always been green historically, as such it makes more sense to give iMessages a new colour and leave the SMS messages as is, or tweaked slightly as some have stated (I’ve never owned an Apple product so I don’t know).

Actually I’ve just looked at Hangouts on my Nexus 5.

Outbound Hangouts Message – Green
Inbound SMS / Hangouts Message – White
Outbound SMS – White

In this case I think this is much less a case of Apple being nefarious and more a case of some Apple fans being truly moronic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Makes sense as long as we ignore history

The salient points have mostly been made but I think it’s worth noting that the dislike of green – which I will admit to myself! – has nothing to do with colour or device. It’s just annoying to have no idea whether your message was sent or received.

Those who associate the colour with android obviously have more reliable iMessage than I do, because I find many idevice users revert from iMessage to SMS and back again fairly often and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason as to when – though I’m guessing it depends on whose lines they are using at that particular instant.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Apple are so fucking petty.

I’m not sure it is Apple so much as Apple users who are petty. Most of my friends have iPhones, and I prefer an Android, partly because I own the phone and the OS, and everything running on it, and don’t have to kiss someone’s ring if I want to install something that isn’t sanctioned. Yet I’ve never heard anyone say that my SMS messages piss them off.

I think what we have here is a small but vocal pretentious crowd of iPhone cultists. The same type of cultists you have surrounding horribly inefficient and more destructive to the environment Prius drivers who won’t talk to you because you drive a gasoline-powered or battery-powered vehicle and not a hybrid.

ysth (profile) says:

Re: Someone's showing bias here...

I don’t think that meant “green, which is always harsh”, I think it meant “a shade of green that is harsh”.

And I have to agree, specifically with the white text on it.

#GreenBubblesPride anyone?

(Personally, I have a feature phone and only started using text messages in the last year, so my opinion likely isn’t very relevant.)

Keeees says:

Nice theory

There’s this rule, never attribute to malice…

IIRC those text bubbles have been green since at least iOS3. iMessage was new in iOS5, so the blue bubbles would only have shown up 2 years later.

I can sort of see them not wishing to change things for the reasons outlined, ie out of some malicious consideration towards Android users. I can also see them not changing the green bubbles simply because SMS on iOS has ‘always’ been green. This is a much simpler explanation that doesn’t require an assumption of malice.

This therefore seems to be quite far fetched:
“Apple is likely choosing harsh, ugly green bubbles on purpose. As a petty way to put down Android users: “

There’s plenty of reasons to complain about Apple without having to make stuff up. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

It may not be common knowledge, but the Messages App on the iPhone started as SMS only with the green bubbles, not blue. It wasn’t until iOS 5 that Apple introduced iMessage and used the blue bubbles to differentiate the iMessage messages from the SMS messages, not the other way around.

What’s happened since then, is that social groups tend to use the same devices. iPhone users tend to associate with other iPhone users, Android users the same. This is a pretty broad generalization, but it fits.

This means that iMessage users interact less frequently with SMS users and think that the green bubble is the exception. When in fact, it’s the other way.

Unanimous Cow Herd says:

Hmm, I see a trend there.

Look at the profile pics, then at your Droid.

Notice something all the whiners have in common? They’re all persons who are likely to wear makeup. Yes, I mean you too, papsito.

I’ve never seen a better demographic graphic for iFoam user base.

Now look back at your Droid, then back at the pics. Do you care what color they like in their texts?

bureau13 (profile) says:

I’m no fan of Apple business practices, and I’m an Android user, but this seems silly. Had Apple switched the colors around, those same idiots would have been bitching about blue bubbles. I find nothing inherently unpleasant about the shade of green used in the text message bubbles. Remember that, with the green indicating traditional SMS, there is some marginal functionality that is lost vs. iMessage (e.g. feedback as to whether your message was seen).

Doug D says:

it's SMS, not Android

There are iOS users who disable iMessage for a variety of reasons, and messages from those folks come through as green as well. So do messages from folks using featurephones instead of any kind of smartphone. The same applies to Windows phone and Blackberry and Ubuntu phones. I do not believe that Apple is targeting Android specifically.

Ven says:

Re: it's SMS, not Android

Those other phones don’t really exist, only iPhone and Android will ever matter. And any iPhone user that isn’t happy with every singe choice Apple has made doesn’t deserve to be called an iPhone user. If they would ever go so far as to disable Apples flawless features they don’t even deserve to have their iPhone. Apple is just correctly identifying them as Android wannabes so all of use real iPhone users can avoid them.


Anonymous Coward says:

To me this story seems hyperbolic. Having a clear distinction between push-messages and sms is nice if only to know whether you need to have data enabled to receive/send messages to a certain person.
The contrast between light-green text and darker-green bubble seems to be somewhat low, that’s the only thing I see and it’s minor.

Might I add that TextSecure (the technically most advanced encrypted messaging app) also does a coloured distinction for sms (green) vs push message (blue).
Granted, it does this to distinguish encrypted and plaintext on top.

PaulT (profile) says:

So, in short: Apple have kept the same UI design it’s had since iMessage was first introduced, and people are essentially treating it as a conspiracy because that service works quite reliably (and because it’s Apple, presumably).

iPhone to iPhone messages will revert to the green bubbles if the iMessages don’t go through on a data connection. The different colours are so you can easily see at a glance if the message has gone through data or SMS. Since iMessage is an Apple service, it will never turn blue on another device (though it may turn green on an iPhone). Not only that, but IIRC all messages used to be green (indicating SMS), so all they’ve done is introduce a new colour for iMessages. You” see green if iMessage is not working for any reason – lack of data connection, multiple failed attempts and iMessage being turned off – that have nothing to do with using a different device.

As is often the case, Apple’s default app has many alternatives (mostly cross-platform) you can use to communicate if Apple’s app annoys you. What an amazing non-story.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

The fault here is in the users

The different coloring is not at all aimed ad Android. It has the functional purpose of distinguishing between using data or SMS for sending the message. If Apple is trying to get their users to hate anything, it’s SMS.

However, I think the real issue here isn’t anything Apple has done. Apple is just relaying useful information about something that might cost you money without you otherwise noticing. The real issue is the sheer pettiness and cult mentality of a large portion of Apple’s user base. Which, to be honest, is something that Apple has been intentionally nurturing since the ’80s.

Isma'il says:

On the flip side.....

I personally love how, when a person switches from iPhone to Android or Windows Phone, their text messages don’t show up on their friends’ iPhones. Apple holds their phone numbers “hostage” to the iMessage system and, since they’ve switched, in Apple’s mind they don’t exist anymore. Talk about arrogance on the part of Apple. Easy remedy: Have the receipient switch off iMessage or call Apple and have them remove your cell number from their iMessage server. As far as other encrypted message services are concerned, Telegram Messenger is available on Windows Phone, Android and iPhone and it’s free with no BS compatibility issues or funky colours.

Chris Pratt (profile) says:

Few problems here

First, until recently I was a long term iPhone user. So long term in fact that I remember before iMessage came out and all the bubbles were green. Green has always been the SMS bubble color. When Apple released iMessage they needed something to differentiate between an iMessage and an SMS message, and decided on blue for whatever reason. You’re free to assume I suppose that they chose blue because it was more serene, but this is then merely a positive spin on a new technology rather than a negative spin on an old.

Second, this is hardly Apple vs Google. While perhaps Android has the most marketshare of any source of those green bubbles, it’s just SMS, so any phone, Android, Windows, etc. would display the same. Even iPhones can generate a green bubble when iMessage is unavailable or turned off.

Third, using an Android phone hardly means you took the cheap way out. My current Android device retails for more than most iPhone models.

Dan (profile) says:

The stupid, it burns!

I know it’s been said already, but I can’t help repeating it–this is about the most ridiculous example of making a mountain out of a molehill that I’ve seen. It’s true, Apple visually distinguishes between SMS and iMessage messages. Anyone who has any familiarity with the limitations/features of those respective systems can imagine some pretty decent reasons why they might want to do that. Let it go already.

Anon says:

More interesting

This isn’t so much as “apple wants you to hate android”. Look at the examples shown – overwhelmingly female (or a reasonable facsimile). This is standard social status backbiting – Mean Girls making fun of the cheaper brand of phone, most likely to go with making fun of lack of expansive brand name clothes, shoes, purse, etc. It’s just on more way to push the weaker ones out of the herd or clique for the hyenas to devour. It’s just convenient that they can easily make the distinction from a text conversation. It’s not Apple deliberately doing anything – it’s status-seeking children of all ages picking on the weakest link.

However, the colour change conveniently also warns drug dealers when they are sending over unencrypted networks; recall the issue a while ago where law enforcement warned that subpoenas for SMS data would miss a lot of text messages if they went (encrypted) over iMessage.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: More interesting

“Mean Girls making fun of the cheaper brand of phone”

Which just makes them look stupid, because “Android” is not a brand of phone, and not all Android phones are cheaper than iPhones. If people are using the cost of a device as an indicator of status (which is also idiotic), then they really should be using a high-end Android phone.

John85851 (profile) says:

First world problem

Wow- I’m amazed there are people that have such wonderful, meaningfull lives that their only complaint in life is that their friends send them text messages in green. The horror! How will they ever go on in life with such a burden?

Seriously, though, like other people are saying: this is simply a color choice based on whether the text message is sent via iMessage or SMS. Would these complainers prefer another color?

And is Apple really trying to get users to hate Android? Apple has more money than any other company in the world, even more than Google. Why would they stoop to this kind of pettiness? Why would their designers secretly choose a “bad” color? And why didn’t they choose red, which is even worse than green?

So, time for Occam’s razor: either the designers thought green was close enough to blue to signal a change in text messaging or there’s a huge conspiracy to get people to switch to iPhones by using a “bad” color rather than use advertising and marketing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: First world problem

“Why would they stoop to this kind of pettiness?”

While I agree that there isn’t malicious intent in the color choice, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Apple has a long history of petty behavior. If this was actually a malicious move on Apple’s part, it wouldn’t really be out of character.

smartin (profile) says:

Green bubble hatred?

Oh, give me a break, people.

We like blue buttons, but we hate green buttons? Just how childish can you be? It’s a visual cue telling you that the messages are handled differently. If it were rounded corners and square corners, would you have your panties in a twist?

There are real problems in the world. This is a *phone*. Get over it.

Dan says:

Green isn’t bad per se. It’s the harsh shade of green that is the problem. I use TextSecure as my main sms app, and it uses a much more soothing dark green shade for own-messages.

As for the Apple pettiness, I do think there is something to it. As the author has pointed out, Apple can be really petty with rivals (like using the BSoD for Windows devices in the network).

And there is also the fact that Apple nuthuggers are some of the most entitled, cultish dicks around. Remember when Instagram (an Apple exclusive) started accepting Android users? Utter hatred and disgust from the iSheep. We greenies are dirty riff-raffs that’ll drag down the whole Instagram experience with our mass-market taste and crappy Android cameras.

This hatred of green bubbles is another symptom of Apple fans’ superiority complex. Anything different from the iCult is put-down and mocked.

CanadianByChoice (profile) says:

The color tells me who is subject to overage charges

On my iPhone, all incoming messages have grey background. iMessage outbound have blue backgrounds and SMS has green backgrounds. The difference? iMessage will send over wifi (if available), avoiding usage caps from my cell carrier while SMS is ALWAYS through my cell carrier.
I appreciate knowing who isn’t subject of overage charges!

msmolly (profile) says:

iMessage free, SMS often NOT free

I didn’t bother to read the 87 previous comments, but for the record, the distinction between iMessage colors and whatever green SMS color is because iMessages are FREE of charge and for most people, SMS messages are NOT free.

If the iPhone pings the intended recipient and finds another iPhone, it sends an iMessage. If it does not identify an iPhone it sends a text (SMS) message. Sometimes it will fail to identify an iPhone and will send an SMS message because there was no identification. And it has little or nothing to do with Wifi. I can use my cell carrier and send iMessages.

It isn’t a subtle war or a cheap shot. It is a way for the sender to see whether a message will incur a cost or not.

andyroo says:


This is just a very big opportunity for Microsoft to produce an app that works on all phones. I would not be surprised if Microsoft started making better apps that all can use and we can all play together instead of being locked into android or iphone or windows phones.I hope Microsoft gets it right with their global apps as then the barrier to functionality would disappear and apple and android would have no choice but to compete.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: MS

So, you want them to make a cross-platform messaging app? That is, exactly what Whatsapp, Viber, Line, Blackberry’s BBM and dozens of other competitors already do?

Or, you know, the SMS app that’s being criticised in the article – it already works on all platforms, it just works slightly differently on the iPhone depending on who you are communicating with. Yes, even Windows users can talk with them.

But, hey, Microsoft are the “innovators” so they’ll be right on top of that “new” solution, I’m sure…

W. Anderson says:

statistics to support success in Green Bubble caper

It would be interesting and very informative from business analysis point of view if Techdirt or any other Technology publishing entity could get credible statistics that show any quantity Android users switching to using iPhones and/or iPads, even if the bulk of their texting was with other Android users.

Anonymous Coward says:


This article is idiotic. The green bubbles show that your message has been sent as a text message. For example if I am messaging a friend using my phone but I do not have data on, the message will send as a text message showing up in the “harsh green”. The blue bubbles show that the message has been sent using iMessage therefore if you are charged per text, you can easily see the that blue bubbles are not costing you money to send however the green bubbles are. The colour of the bubbles is therefore not determened by the device, but by the method used to send the message.

JuJuBee says:

the Green is hard on my eyes

iPhone users get green bubbles too. Whenever it’s sent as a text message and not iMessage it will be green. (another iPhone may be out of area/signal/yada yada.) Anyway, I think most people hate the green NOT because Apple hypnotized them into it, but because it is VERY difficult to read the text inside the bright shade of green they chose. I don’t mind the Green, what I mind is the contrast problem with white text inside a bright shade of Green. Any Graphic Designer will tell you that black text should be used when the background is a brighter light color. Apple chose white text and it gives people a headache and is VERY hard to read. They should have put black text inside the green bubbles because it would have been easier to read in black and not been such a horrible contrast to the blue bubbles. The blue used in the blue bubbles is a nicer, solid, uniform medium blue which allows the white to be read easily. If the green used black text, it wouldn’t look so much “uglier.” But it drives me CRAZY. Absolute horrible design flaw with text color.

John L. says:

iMessage = End-to-end encryption

This is truly one of the most boneheaded anti-Apple pieces I have ever read, and on TechDirt of all places! As other have said, ALL text message bubbles on iOS were green until around 2010 when Apple introduced iMessage. Yes, iMessages are free and can include emoji and go beyond the 160 SMS character limit. But most importantly, unlike SMS, iMessages are SECURE.

Take off your tinfoil hat now, please.

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