Too Many Messengers

Day 8 in #100DaysToOffload

Introduction

This will be a more rant-y post than usual. Oh well, there are no rules in #100DaysToOffload anyways. I recently updated to the iOS 14 beta (see some thoughts here) which had a huge change to the home screen and app organization. There is now an “App Library” with all your apps pre-sorted into folders. I did not care for it to much, until I realized that meant you can remove apps from your homescreen, but still have it installed (Android users: I know you guys have had this for...ever? Apple has finally caught up!). I care a lot about how my phone is organized, and this change was a blessing. While I went to remove apps, I came across my “Communication” folder, which in addition to calling (Phone, Linphone, Jitsi Meet, FaceTime, etc.) apps, contained all my “messaging” apps. I stopped for a bit and thought how ridiculous it is with all these apps.

The U.S.A. and SMS

To any non-American readers, you are probably (This is based off observation and could very well differ by region) wonder why this is. In the U.S., SMS never went pay-per-text and is almost always unlimited or prepaid. Thus, services like WhatsApp were never needed, as there was no additional cost to text someone. Furthermore, Apple has a far larger market share in the U.S. as compared to the rest of the world. Apple also has their own proprietary and hardware-locked messenger which is automatically used when someone else has an iPhone: iMessage.

iMessage

My most used messenger is easily iMessage. Almost all of my contacts have iPhones, so this is not only an easy option, but the default option. iMessage is honestly not that bad of a messenger, but being locked to Apple makes me hate it. iMessage works super smoothly, on all my devices (I use a Mac), and has pretty good security. Regardless, the only way to use iMessage on other platforms is by going through some hacky route like AirMessage (which is actually an awesome project, worked almost flawlessly when testing it). Group chats also work great (except you cannot leave three person ones for some reason), so it is a default for them as well. Even though I communicate with a majority through iMessage, others still go through other apps.

A Mess of Apps

Even the same people will occasionally message me through different platforms! A friend will text me through iMessage, and then later send a message through Discord. Or maybe they'll share a post on Instagram and then Snapchat me. That is already three pretty much essential apps for a high-schooler, making me already have four apps (with iMessage) just to talk to people, and I have not even gotten to my preferred messengers! Then, my Grandma and some foreign friends use WhatsApp to communicate, raising the total to five. Oh yeah, other people want to use Telegram instead. Six. If you want to count something like Slack, bring that to seven. This gets...unmanageable to say the least. Staying in contact and actually communicating trumps my desire for a single platform, so I comply.

A Mess of (Secure) Apps

As mentioned, I had not gotten to my “preferred” messengers yet. Honestly, iMessage (and maybe WhatsApp?) is fine and definitely better than SMS, but in a perfect world I would not use the previous seven. Even if I used secure options, I would still be stuck with a mess. The problem with many secure instant messaging communications is none are perfect. Signal requires a phone number (and some recent controversy over Signal PINS), Wire stores unencrypted metadata about your contacts, Riot/Matrix is generally confusing (It would probably be impossible to get a non-technical user to use it), and so on. Everyone has their own preferred messenger, and for the same reason of communication > annoyed by many apps, I have many secure messengers as well. I talk to some people on Signal, some on Wire, Riot/Matrix, and Keybase (I also plan to set up Session and XMPP/OMEMO). Those four now make it 11(!) apps I frequently use for messaging. Include email and voice/video chat, and it increases.

Future

In a perfect world, I would use E2EE messengers and voice/video chat with all of my contacts. We do not live in a perfect world. Instead, I have to adapt to what others want, and they must do the same. I do not have a solution besides to “go with the flow.” I can push people to secure options (I have convinced a few good friends who were not already on secure messaging platforms to switch over to Signal) but it is only a push. I doubt I will get my family to use it, but I have hope! Unfortunately, the Apple iMessage lock-in is too strong to ditch it completely (which probably means I can never fully get out of the Apple ecosystem). As I said though, anything is better than SMS.