A new deposit (first spotted by The Verge) in the Epic games against Apple case reveals Apple’s inner considerations about potentially bringing iMessage to Android, including Apple executives’ concerns that if Google bought WhatsApp, the search giant could win the messaging wars.
Once upon a time, there was a big decision about Google’s messaging as it considered buying WhatsApp. The rumors started in April 2013, when Digital Trends reported that Google was negotiating a $1 billion acquisition of the company. WhatsApp officially shot the rumor just a few days later, but between the start and the end of this rumor, Apple executives started talking.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of Internet software and services, began advocating that the company should fight Google+WhatsApp with iMessage on Android, writing in an email: “We really need to bring iMessage to Android. I have a few people We’ve had to investigate this, but we need to go full steam ahead and make this an official project.”
Cue continued his reasoning, saying, “Do we want to lose one of the most important apps in a mobile environment to Google? They have search, email, free video and [are] growing fast in browsers. We have the best messaging app and we should make it the industry standard. I don’t know how we can make money with it, but it doesn’t cost us much to run.”
Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP Software Engineering, joined the email chain:
Do you have any thoughts on how we would make the switch to iMessage (from WhatsApp) appealing to masses of Android users who don’t have a bunch of iOS friends? iMessage is a nice app/service, but to get users to switch social networks, we need more than a slightly better app. (This is why Google is willing to pay $1 billion – for the network, not for the app.)… Lacking a strategy to become the primary messaging service for [the] Most of the mobile phone users, I worry that iMessage on Android would simply remove an obstacle for iPhone families who give Android phones to their kids.
The statement continues to investigate Apple’s iMessage-on-Android discussions, but unfortunately this part of the document has been redacted.
WhatsApp denied the takeover rumors but was eventually bought just a year later. Google’s bid for the company reportedly reached $10 billion, but it wasn’t enough to match Facebook, which bought WhatsApp in February 2014 for what eventually became a $22 billion deal. The Facebook/WhatsApp deal was one of the biggest tech acquisitions ever, and with Facebook behind the wheel, WhatsApp has grown from 450 million users to more than 2 billion. Cue was absolutely right about WhatsApp’s trajectory.
For Google, not buying WhatsApp in 2013 feels like a major turning point. Google would launch seven competing messaging and video apps over the years: Google Hangouts in 2013; Google Spaces, Google Allo and Google Duo in 2016; and Google Chat and Google Meet in 2017. The company also pushed for RCS via Google Messages in 2019. Cue’s prediction that the company could “lose” to a Google-led WhatsApp now seems like a dream from a bygone era.
Cue also called messaging “one of the most important apps in a mobile environment,” which is a striking difference from Google’s approach to messaging. At Google, messaging is only handled by an endless string of underfunded, unstable side projects led by job-hopping project managers. Google releases a new messaging app roughly every 12-18 months, making it very difficult for a single app to gain traction and reducing consumer trust in an individual product. The heads of these projects often leave the company shortly after a splashy product launch, and with no top-down direction on what the company should support, the products usually start winding down once the leader bails.
Federighi’s comments align with Apple’s longstanding stance that iMessage is an important part of Apple’s walled garden and that the company shouldn’t make it easy for “iPhone families” to integrate Android devices. The Epic case previously revealed a 2016 comment from Apple’s Phil Schiller, in which he said that “moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than it will help us.”