Nothing offers iMessage without needing an iPhone

15 Nov 2023

Image: Nothing

In its attempt to take on Apple in its walled garden, Car Pei’s Nothing has a feature that aims to appeal to Android users green with envy.

“Bring on the blue bubbles,” smartphone start-up Nothing wrote on X yesterday (14 November). “We believe in windows, not walls. If messaging services are dividing phone users, then we want to break those barriers down.”

The London-based company founded by Carl Pei is referring to its latest, surprising offering: iMessage for users of their Android phones.

This feature is powered by messaging app Sunbird, which allows people to use any popular messaging service – including iMessage – even if they don’t have the device it comes with. The idea is to give everyone a chance at blue bubbles, the colour of messages when one iPhone user texts another.

Pei is famous for having previously co-founded Chinese electronics brand OnePlus with Pete Lau in 2013. He left OnePlus in 2020 and founded Nothing the following year.

Nothing grabbed international attention when it launched its Phone 1 device to compete with the iPhone last year. Earlier this year, Nothing raised $96m backed by Google and Swedish House Mafia before launching its Phone 2 device to take on Apple.

“It’s clear that there’s real demand for an innovative challenger in the consumer tech industry,” Pei said at the time the funding was announced.

“If you want products that connect and work seamlessly together, the only choice is Apple,” he said previously. “As soon as you leave that ecosystem for a Windows PC or an Android phone, it breaks down. There is no alternative to Apple. We’re building the most compelling alternative.”

Calling the lack of interoperability one of the “biggest frustrations” between Android and iOS users, Nothing said it is the first phone company to allow users to message others using blue bubbles, giving them access to a host of features exclusive to Apple devices.

Once rolled out, the feature will only be available to Phone 2 users in the US, the EU, the UK and Canada.

“Nothing Chats is based on the Sunbird platform and all messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. This means that neither we nor Sunbird have access to the messages you send and receive,” the company wrote on its website.

“Sunbird’s architecture provides a system to deliver a message from one user to another without ever storing it at any point in its journey. Messages are not stored on Sunbird’s servers and are only live on your device.”

This means that once a message sent through Sunbird is delivered, it can only be recovered locally from the device.

Even though the feature isn’t out yet, the Washington Post reports that Nothing Chats work “for the most part”, except for certain iMessage features such as editing messages and some reactions, as well as the occasional glitch.

As of this week, Nothing has sold more than 2m products. “What a ride,” the company wrote in a celebratory post on X. “And we’re still only just getting started.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic