The smartphone market is one of the most competitive and fastest growing markets in all of business. Companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung compete against each other year after year to increase their respective shares of the market. While Samsung holds the largest market share globally with a 30% share as of August 2018, Apple remains the biggest player in the United States with a 40% share as of Q2 2018. In the early days of smartphones, Apple was the only true player. The design, technology, and user interface on the iPhone was years ahead of their competitors in the late 2000’s. This, however, is not the case anymore. Samsung, Google, LG, and HTC all have phones that sport better screens, cameras, or processors that are coupled with a beautiful design and a fantastic UI – often for the same or less money than the iPhone. The question remains then, why have all these companies failed to overtake Apple in the domestic market? To me, the answer, while rarely discussed, is simple: iMessage.
Like most Americans, every two years I shop for a new smartphone. I’ve always had iPhones, but I’m not married to iOS or Apple’s hardware, so I’ve at times considered picking up a Google Pixel or a Samsung Galaxy. There has been one thing, however, that has kept me as a loyal Apple customer, and that is iMessage, and I’m willing to bet that the case is the exact same for many of you reading this.
While Apple only holds 40% of the domestic market, they dominate the high end smartphone market that most of us belong to. This has created huge populations of iPhone users in communities across the country, such as Boston College. Here, I have been in group chats with 20 or more people who all have iPhones, causing blue iMessages to populate the screen. If there were even one Android user in that group, the messages would send as green text messages rather than blue iMessages – and nobody wants to be the one person who turns the texts green. This results in people with Androids being intentionally left out of group messages, or a group-wide switch to WhatsApp or GroupMe. These decisions are made, not to spite people with ugly green texts, but because messages sent over the internet such as iMessage or GroupMe send quicker, from more places, and often give feedback letting the sender know that their message has been delivered. These social pressures to remain part of the Apple family are strong, and I personally would never consider purchasing an Android, no matter how good the phone, until I knew my messages would send over the internet and appear as blue, rather than through cell towers and appear as green.
Social pressures, however, are not the only reason iMessage is such an integral part of the Apple experience. Apple has literally created a better way to text in doing away with the need for a cellular network enabled device. They have created an ecosystem of products and seamlessly integrated iMessage into everything under the Apple umbrella. As long as you’re on WiFi and have an Apple ID, you can send iMessages and talk to your friends from any Apple device. If I’m at my MacBook Pro, I can pick up all the iMessage conversations from my iPhone straight from my desk and talk to my friends from there. Lost your phone? Have an iPod or iPad? Great! You can still text anyone who has an iPhone straight from there without so much as a second thought. Apple has done away with the need for a texting plan and created a network of devices and people that rely on iMessage to communicate effectively and efficiently, while Android has failed to do anything of the sort. Sending texts on your Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel means just that – sending texts on and confined to your phone.
Apple continues to lose ground to Samsung in the global market share race due to their cheaper and more accessible phones. I, however, believe that it will be very difficult for Samsung and other Android players to penetrate the markets in the U.S. that are already saturated with iPhones until they can develop a solution or a way to send messages over the internet that will integrate with iMessages. This seems extremely unlikely, as if Apple were to allow Android phones to send texts as iMessages, they’d be giving up their biggest competitive advantage.