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Finally, a way to use iMessage on Android. We all know ostracizing the dreaded “green text” that comes with owning an Android can be. Group chats fall into chaos. Green bubbles are grounds for exile. Friendships lost as iPhone uniformity takes over (Okay, that’s pretty overdramatic— but still).
The world of messaging has taken a few turns in the past few days, and Sunbird has found itself at the center of the conversation. London-based tech company Nothing (®) has just announced they’ll be integrating Sunbird’s technology into their devices, bringing continuity between iPhone and Android messaging.
Nothing Chats allows you to message other users via blue bubbles. The company is still in the Beta phase, “which means more features and improvements are coming down the line.” Interested in what Nothing is doing? Learn more here.
Sunbird is on a mission to stop this plight for Android users and unify Apple and Android once and for all. This past week, I saw how the other half lived and used a Samsung Galaxy S22, but with one key difference: I was able to use my current iMessage account.
What is the Sunbird app?
Sunbird is an application that enables Android users to access Apple’s iMessage service seamlessly. It’s designed to provide a near-identical experience to that enjoyed by iPhone users, making communication between Android and Apple devices easier and more enjoyable.
In essence, Sunbird’s goal is to break down the walls separating these two major mobile ecosystems (and get rid of judgment based on text bubble colors). And I’d argue that it’s pretty seamless.
The reason being is that Sunbird essentially becomes your primary messaging app. You can sync your native Android SMS/MMS into Sunbird alongside your iMessages so that all of your texts live in one place. I loved this as it allowed me to have full control over my text inbox. Plus, my Galaxy asked if I wanted to make Sunbird my default messaging app, which I took full advantage of.
Another nice thing about the app is that Sunbird doesn’t just stop at basic messaging capabilities. It provides access to a lot of the typical iMessage features, including end-to-end encryption, group chats, read receipts, typing indicators, and more. I actually felt like I wasn’t missing out on any specific features from iMessage.
Lastly, it’s a great way to balance every messaging inbox you have. At launch, Sunbird will support iMessage, SMS/MMS, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Telegram, RCS, Signal, Line, Slack, Discord, Instagram DMs and many more will be supported in the future.
How Did Android and iPhone Get Here?
Context here is important. At the outset, you may be asking what the point of an app like Sunbird is.
Research conducted by Piper Sandler involving 7,100 teenagers reveals that a staggering 87% of them own iPhones and have unwavering brand loyalty. The reason being the built-in familiarity of iMessage tools and the overall status symbol of having an iPhone. We all know there’s a cultural divide when it comes to Apple and Android and it seems like that loyalty is apparent across generations of phone users. Sunbird continues the ongoing conversation and allows users of any device to communicate with one another, using features we are already used to.
Sunbird is also unique to what the alternative has been for a while. The old way to use iMessage on Android was to “create your own server” using a Mac. In order to do so, you’d have to have a Mac device powered on 24/7. Obviously, that method is not as accessible as Sunbird, which hosts the experience and takes the burden off the user.
Also, Apple knows what they’re doing in terms of brand exclusivity. RCS (the SMS/MMS format that Google uses) could be utilized and licensed by Apple, but they have no incentive to. Incorporating RCS would create a more fair messaging playing field for all, but at the cost of iPhones losing their “clout,” which Apple most likely won’t sacrifice.
How to Set Up iMessage on Android without an Apple Device
Setting up the Sunbird app was a piece of cake. I simply downloaded the app from the Play store, logged in with my Google account, and then was able to add in my Apple ID/iMessage account. Once the app finished connecting with my Apple ID, I was able to text my iMessage contacts and group chats with ease.
Side Note: I did have to “approve” Sunbird’s request to join my iMessage and gain access to my Apple ID. My iPhone was alerted that somewhere in Chicago, IL a device was attempting to be added. For context, I live in Brooklyn, New York.
At first this was concerning, but after doing some research, I learned Sunbird (and apps like it) operate on a VPN. (I know other users have reported different locations requesting access, so be mindful of that). Ultimately, there is a risk factor in trusting a third-party app with your Apple credentials. However, based on my usage, I have not had any issues after approving the request.
Things to Consider
While Sunbird offers a promising solution for Android users seeking iMessage compatibility, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:
1. Apple’s Reaction
Sunbird operates in a somewhat gray area, as it leverages Apple’s iMessage service without Apple’s official support. There is a possibility that Apple may take action to restrict or block such third-party apps in the future. Currently though, it’s good to go!
2. Security Concerns
Sunbird currently puts new users on a waitlist (currently there’s over 145,000 in line), with no recent updates about when the public will have access.
The best apps for iMessage on Android
As a reminder, in order to use most other apps, you need to have some sort of physical Apple device. At least for now, it seems like Sunbird is the only app on the market that allows you to sign in with just an Apple ID (which is free to set up).
But there’s a bunch of messaging options out there, for every type of user. Here’s a list of some competitors, along with a brief overview of how Sunbird differs from them:
- Beeper seems like the closest competitor to Sunbird. I was unable to test Beeper, but once I’m off the waitlist, I will update this post, to share another potential cross-platform messaging solution.
- WhatsApp is a widely popular cross-platform messaging app owned by Facebook. While it offers features like end-to-end encryption, voice and video calls, and group chats, it operates independently of iMessage and has a different user interface. All you need is a phone number to sign up for WhatsApp, unlike Sunbird, which connects to iMessage via Apple ID to make use of similar features.
- Telegram is known for its strong emphasis on privacy and security, although I think it falls a bit short. End to end encryption isn’t standard for Telegram, which can cause some serious privacy issues, ultimately making it a bit sketchier than alternatives. It does offer features like self-destructing messages, secret chats, and a range of customizable options. However, like WhatsApp, Telegram is a standalone platform that doesn’t integrate with iMessage. Sunbird sets itself apart by providing a direct link to iMessage and, therefore, the iOS ecosystem.
- Signal is renowned for its robust security and privacy features, including end-to-end encryption and disappearing messages. While Signal offers strong security measures, it’s a standalone messaging app that doesn’t have the same level of integration with iMessage as Sunbird. Android users cannot use Signal to communicate directly with iMessage users.
- AirMessage is another app that aims to bridge the gap between Android and iMessage. It works by connecting to a Mac computer running a server app. Unlike Sunbird, which directly integrates with iMessage, AirMessage requires a Mac as an intermediary. This setup can be less convenient for users who don’t have access to a Mac computer.
Overall, while several messaging apps cater to Android users, Sunbird proves itself useful by offering an easy and direct gateway to Apple’s iMessage service. If you want to iMessage on Android, this is the place to start. However, it’s essential to approach the use of Sunbird with some caution, as its operation relies on unofficial access to iMessage.
For now, Android users can rejoice in the ability to send blue texts rather than green ones, making communication smoother and more enjoyable than ever before. In the grand scheme, I have high hopes for Sunbird to make waves. I hope it serves as a way for users of any device to communicate seamlessly with one another and have access to similar tools we love from Apple.
However, it does beg the question: is this the solution or just a bandaid? This still gives Apple the upper hand in being the most desirable platform in the US, with other replicas simply trying to mimic the experience as best as possible.
Join Sunbird’s waitlist here.
Here’s to stronger bonds across Android and Apple users and maybe one day, group chats that finally work.