Saturday, February 28, 2015

Does Apple Use Green Bubbles to Make You Hate Android Users?

By Ben Stegner
iMessage, the service that Mac and iOS devices use to chat with each other, is a much-loved feature of the Apple ecosystem – and it got even better with an upgrade in iOS 8. Instead of using standard text messages, iMessage sends text over the Internet using your WiFi or data connection for a faster and more reliable conversation.
If you have an iPhone, you may have a noticed a slight difference in the bubbles that represent your sent messages. This seemingly insignificant detail sparked controversy recently; let’s examine why.
Note: iMessage is supported on iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, and Mac. However, since none of these devices typically have texting capabilities except the iPhone, in this article I’ll be talking about iMessage on iPhone only.

What’s the Beef?

In case you haven’t used iMessage before, or do use it and just haven’t noticed, here’s a rundown of what happens. By default, when you send a message through the Messages app on your iPhone, it goes through iMessage if the recipient is also using an iPhone. If the person on the other end has any other phone – mainly Android, but Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and “dumb” phones too – the message is sent as an SMS. iMessage uses blue bubbles when sent; a text uses green.
The differences aren’t just cosmetic. iMessage includes read receipts and “typing” messages, dead-simple group messaging, doesn’t count against your monthly plan for texts, and is faster since it goes over the Internet. However, not everyone has an iPhone, so we can expect Apple users to understand the difference and respect their friends’ decisions, right?
Wrong. See for yourself how people really feel about green bubbles:
One user even took this popular image (it’s hard to see in the tweet) comparing the features of the Nexus 4 (released in 2012) and the iPhone 6 (released in 2014) and dismissed it due to the fact that its creator “sends green text message bubbles.” Apparently, your statement of device specifications is invalid if you don’t have the “chosen” blue bubbles.
This is just a minute sample; a search on Twitter for “green bubbles” will bring up hundreds more, and they aren’t stopping. Fascinating, isn’t it? These users seem to despise green bubbles so much that they act as if it’s an inconvenience to text the lowly peons that spawn them.

The Psychology of Green Bubbles

Paul Ford’s fascinating look at this phenomenon, “It’s Kind of Cheesy Being Green“, cites some of these tweets and looks at why green bubbles seem to strike a nerve with so many iPhone users. But are their gripes really valid?
Some, including Ford, have suggested that the green bubbles are a “harsh” color and are harder on the eyes that the cooling blue color that iMessage provides. Longtime users of iOS might remember that before iMessage was around (it launched with iOS 5 in 2011) all messages showed up in green. It’s your call whether this green became less attractive once iOS made the jump to a flatter look with its radical iOS 7 re-design.
We’ve established that iMessage is objectively better than standard texting, as those with limited plans can chatter to their hearts’ content while on WiFi. However, few people, if any, are citing the actual benefits of the service when complaining about green bubbles. Instead, it becomes almost an obsession: people want to purge every green bubble (and those who cause them) from their devices.

Does Apple Encourage This?

It’s no secret that Apple isn’t a fan of Android, and none of this discussion is meant to be an iPhone vs. Android debate. Rather, we want to look at this fascinating sociological effect, since it clearly isn’t only a few people who are fighting to kill green bubbles. Apple designed the OS; could they have planted the seed of anti-green-bubblism?
Taking a look at Apple’s iMessage page shows a small jab at green texters, though it’s pretty harmless – SMS users probably won’t be “green with envy” since they won’t even know what they’re missing. They’ve been more aggressive, however. During Apple’s developer conference in 2014, they openly poked fun at green bubbles and said that friends who cause them use “inferior devices.” So they’re certainly in on the reputation.

Green is obviously the color of the Android logo, but it isn’t as if Apple totally rejects the color from their operating system. The Messaging icon itself is a similar shade of green – odd that nobody has brought this up, since it would make more sense to make it blue.
In all, it’s highly unlikely that Apple intentionally planned these color differences to reference Android. Having the two types of messages be different colors is important so users can differentiate, of course, but that’s really the bulk of it. However, that doesn’t mean that Apple is ignoring this sensation. They know that people hate green bubbles, so if non-iPhone users feel pressure to switch due to their friends’ urging, Apple picks up customers from this tiny design decision.
Hopefully, they won’t stoop to making this a huge selling point, though. The iPhone is an amazing device on its own, and making fun of the competition only looks Apple look petty. Having to resort to trashing your opponents instead of promoting why your product is better is a poor place to be in – just look at how Microsoft embarrassed itself with its “Scroogled” line of ads.

What Do the People Say?

We could end our discussion of this peculiarity here, but I wanted to make this study more interesting. I created a survey (you can still fill it out if you’d like) that I shared to Facebook. In it, I asked friends, family, and students at my university (a huge thank-you to all who helped me out!) about their mobile devices. After seeing what device they used and what version of iOS they were on just out of curiosity, I proceeded to poll them about iMessage. If they weren’t iOS users, I asked different questions to get their perspective. Here’s what I found.
Of the 119 respondents, 58% used an iPhone, 29% were on Android, and 13% had a “dumb” phone. All but two iOS users knew what iMessage was – then I asked if they knew of any advantages iMessage has over texting. Among the responses were:
  • I can text my friends in other countries without having to worry about international texting rates.
  • Yes. All of them. Uses data so mobile signal isn’t an issue. Delivery notifications. Cheaper. More secure.
  • iMessage tells you if your message was delivered and read but a regular text message tells you nothing.
  • Sometimes it will use iMessage if a text fails
  • You can see if the person has had the message delivered to them, if they have read it, and when they are responding.
A handful of folks said they weren’t aware of any differences, but the majority had at least some idea. My next question was whether they prefer blue or green bubbles when texting:
I was really trying to get at people’s opinions here before they read the article, so I asked them to follow up if necessary:
  • They don’t mean much to me, I appreciate the added benefits of iMessage, but I don’t use them for much. Most people seem to turn off read receipts, anyway.
  • The “read TIME” lets me know someone saw the message and they won’t be obligated to respond (like when it’s a definitive end of the conversation. EX: “Meet me there at 5″ — then I won’t worry that they haven’t seen it). If I haven’t gotten a response in a while I can just send a follow-up text.
  • All of the benefits can also be downsides. Sometimes it’s glitchy and it makes it harder to ignore people.
  • They both mean that I am sending/receiving messages so that works for me!
  • Only losers use green ones! Nah for real, the blue is a more pleasant colour.
  • Not a huge fan of either, but I think the green is a little nicer.
  • To be honest, it is a matter of color preference. Blue makes me think of the cold, while green makes me think about warm and sunny days.
  • If I see green, I usually think that something did not send correctly and had to be sent as SMS since most of my contacts are iPhone users.
  • I actually am not a fan of iMessage and don’t even bother to have it enabled. That might seem weird, but I just prefer the little extra privacy that comes with being able to ignore someone’s message and not seem like a jerk for not responding when I may be busy.
  • I know it’s a lowly android user if it’s not blue.
  • Most of my friends do have apple phones so all of their message bubbles are blue, but my boyfriend had an android so it seems special.
Here, we definitely see a nice balance and a clash with how the Twitter universe sees green bubbles. Most people who had a preference had a good reason when asked to back it up, and some even brought up great points, like knowing the other person has read your “See you at 8″ message and that iMessage can be glitchy.
After giving them Ford’s article, I asked for their response. There are far too many interesting responses to publish here, but as a small selection:
  • I think it’s honestly kind of petty to get so worked up about whether the bubbles are blue or green. it’s just an embellishment on the product. I’m not surprised Apple markets for blue and not green. it’s their job to sell their product so they need to use all methods at their disposal
  • I have never noticed the correlation to green bubbles and non apple products before. What annoys me is this “first world problem” mentality… I mean, really, you’ve got a PHONE for goodness sake… bubble color is not important
  • This article was so interesting! It is something that I have thought about before. And yes, green bubbles do slightly annoy me so I can understand why people hate them.
  • Green bubbles annoy me. They have for years. I’m just interested to hear I’m not alone on this.
  • They oddly irritate me, and yet, I’m not 100% why, probably just because they’re different. It really wouldn’t be difficult at all to make all text bubbles the same color.
  • My first reaction was that the way people feel so strongly about it is very shallow and ridiculous, but I realize that I’ve had those same, almost sub-conscious, tendencies. While I will most likely be more aware of when the bubbles are green, I honestly don’t care that much about the difference. A few of my siblings have non-Apple phones, and it’s never bothered me to a significant extent.
After that I asked a few more questions to quantify green bubble feelings – 1 being “They don’t bother me at all” and 5 being “I won’t text people with green bubbles.” It appears most iPhone users don’t actually hate Android and most don’t even care about green bubbles.
Aside from some closing thoughts, that was the end for the iPhone users. Android and “dumb” phone owners got a separate survey, and most of them answered that they text iPhone users often. I asked which device they use and what they knew about iMessage; it seems that non-Apple people aren’t as familiar with the service.
I asked them to read the article, too, and most thought the whole thing was ridiculous.
  • I think they should feel privileged to have an iPhone at all, and a home, and food/clean water.
  • These people are being ridiculous. As is Apple, to be honest. This feels like a divide and conquer type deal, making Apple advocates aware of their Android-owning friends. It’s underhanded and slightly ridiculous.
  • I think the color green can induce some sort of negative psychological effects as opposed to blue, which can induce relaxing and calming feelings. But I believe the people on Twitter described in the article are taking it to a whole other (and unnecessary) level.
  • No merit, just a nuance of society. Also a pretty sad indication of what people allow to affect them.
  • I wonder if green has some kind of uncomfortable sight type deal. Like red rooms are said to make you more on edge, etc.?
In all, it seems like most people surveyed don’t let green bubbles affect them too much. Twitter has fiercely voiced their bit, though. Who’s right?

Are Green Bubbles Are Here to Stay?

Perhaps it’s just me, but this phenomenon is deeply fascinating. How can such a tiny design choice, that likely didn’t have any malicious intent behind it, spark such a huge movement of people who hate green bubbles with a passion? It would be quite a sight to see the survey answers from people who are tweeting like this.
As the final word on this: no, Apple didn’t do this on purpose. That’s a bit of a far-fetched claim. However, they’re probably loving the effect green bubbles have had on iPhone users, and if just a few people switched to an Apple device because of this minute complaint, they’ve made a profit.
The question that survey respondents answered that folks on Twitter haven’t is why they prefer blue bubbles. Is it an OCD-like effect where they want everything to be the same color, or do they really feel that people with iPhones are above texting people without them? That’s a study for another day.
Another interesting point to bring up is that changing the color of your text message is a simple tweak you can make on Android, even without rooting. Using an alternative texting app, you can fine-tune the color for both incoming and outgoing messages. So, if it’s really all about the bubble colors, then maybe these iPhone users are using the wrong device.
If you enjoyed this topic, I invite you to view all the responses (only names have been removed) and if you’d like to take the survey yourself, I’d love to read your thoughts! You’ll also be able to find plenty of tweets about green bubbles by searching for the term on Twitter, if you’d like to see for yourself.
Hangouts, an all-in-one app that’s Android’s closest counterpart to iMessage, is a great app and one Android users might enjoy for messaging each other.
How do you feel about green bubbles? Do you find this as fascinating as I do? I totally want to hear your thoughts on this one, so leave me a comment with your take!
Image Credits: Young casual woman Via Shutterstock, woman holding phone Via Shutterstock

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