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Nothing's iMessage on Android dream was actually a nightmare

The age-old separation of blue and green bubbles was almost coming to an end, but red flags in the Nothing Chats app, powered by Sunbird, made the dream just that.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Nothing Phone 2 Glyph Interface
June Wan/ZDNET

Update (11/21/2023): Just a day after Nothing Chats went live on the Google Play Store, the company has taken down the app and says it will be "delaying the launch until further notice." 

The decision comes not because of Apple's late-week decision to bring RCS to iPhones in 2024 but because of security and privacy concerns. Several sources, including 9To5Google and Texts.blog, have pointed out that messages, pictures, and videos exchanged on Nothing Chats, powered by Sunbird, were not end-to-end encrypted, unlike what the partnering companies had claimed.

Instead, messages were decrypted and transmitted using HTTP to a Firebase server (and error-reporting software, Sentry) in plain text. That information, which includes vCards (used to bundle contact information like phone numbers and email addresses) could easily be accessed, as discovered by Dylan Roussel.

What is Nothing Chats?

Depending on what part of the world you live in, the idea of blue bubbles versus green bubbles evokes either a feeling of confusion or frustration. If you're in the US, where the iPhone dominates the sales charts and iMessage arguably reigns supreme among texting services -- especially among teenagers, then you may be well acquainted with the drama that comes with Apple's exclusive messaging platform.

Also: Apple to bring RCS to iPhones next year. Google's response will make you chuckle

In short: Android users who text iPhone users appear as green bubbles instead of blue bubbles, and the lack of feature parity, including no typing indicators, Tap-Back support (reacting to messages with a tap-and-hold), and group chat limitations, means that the experience of using iMessage with an Android user has always been an inferior one.

There have been several attempts to bridge the gap, as Google's marketing and legal efforts can attest to, but nothing has come as close as, well, Nothing. The London-based electronics maker, responsible for glowing Android phones and earbuds that pay homage to retro tech, had partnered with Sunbird to develop Nothing Chats, a new messaging service that mimics support for iMessage chats.

Using the service is like texting an iPhone user on an iPhone. You can send messages, chat in groups, send full-res images, see when others are typing, and even drop voice notes. All of this is presented as blue bubbles on the actual iPhone users' side, even though you're texting from an Android. 

Also: How to send and receive iMessages on Windows

The method to this madness comes in the form of an Apple ID and a whole lot of Mac Minis. According to Nothing, Sunbird uses a patented process that links your Apple ID, which can be created for free even if you don't own an Apple device, to one of the company's Europe or North America-based Mac Mini "servers". More notably, both companies claimed that messaging through this three-way exchange would be end-to-end encrypted, which has since been refuted by several sources and outlets.

Nothing Chats screenshot

A snippet from Nothing's demo video that shows Nothing Chats in action.


So when you send a text through the Nothing Chats app, you're technically messaging the server that's linked to your Apple ID first, which then forwards it to your iMessage contact. 

Also: Google urges EU regulators to make Apple open up iMessage

This is all the base level of Nothing Chats, as the company says more familiar features like read receipts and message reactions and replies are coming in the future. And, for now, you'll have to have a Nothing Phone 2 -- I know, there are levels to this war of exclusivity -- to use Nothing Chats. But even if you meet all the requirements, the iMessage to Android app has been put on hold amid security concerns, so stay tuned for updates on that front.

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