The core members of my friend group are turning 30 this summer. To celebrate, they wanted to do something big, loud, and expensive, which is fitting for their station in life—urbanite creative-industry types who are old enough to not be broke, but young enough to not yet have kids. So, after debating various bank-account-plundering European destinations, the Birthday Boys and Girls settled on a weeklong trip to Portugal to bless the end of their 20s. There are about a dozen people in the traveling party, which made the actual nuts-and-bolts planning of this getaway a daunting task. Naturally, not being stodgy, email-loving Gen Xers or boomers, we quickly fired up a fresh group text to hammer out all of the details and contingencies. Everyone was included on the chain, except for me.
Why was I rejected? Because I am a lifelong Android user, while everyone else in my orbit is a steadfast, uncompromising iPhone owner. Apparently, in a covert sidebar that I was not privy to, the rest of my vacationing crew concurred that due to the various asymmetries inherent to Apple-to-Samsung transmission—the ultragrainy videos, the needlessly wordy translations of emoji reactions, the inability to add a cute, punny title to the thread, and yes, the dreaded Green Bubble—I would be excised from the central scheduling committee, which effectively relegated me to the powerless status of, like, Montenegro at the United Nations.
I wasn’t prepared for their callousness. Yes, I had caught wind of anti-Android biases in the past, most of which amounted to facile complaints about bubble color schemes. But I was led to believe that the distaste and (I’ll say it!) discrimination toward us Apple agnostics was mostly a goodhearted, tongue-in-cheek meme. Not anymore, baby! Apparently we stopped being nice and started getting real. My friends organized the flights to Porto, the trains to Lisbon, the dimensions of the Airbnbs, and the parameters of the millennial-mandated wine tour without me. Meanwhile, I sat on the sidelines, stewing over all of the bad travel ideas that were surely going unchallenged.
Before the world’s iOS junkies impulsively take my friends’ side, let me make it clear that I know the communication lines between Androids and iPhones are needlessly janky; iMessage, the software that comes preloaded on Apple products that allows users to text within the confines of a sleek interface, in a stream of chatty discourse that constantly updates across all their Apple devices, completely implodes when it tries to reach a smartphone outside of the Jobs Network.
The infamous green bubble—my personal Scarlet Letter—is just the tip of the iceberg. As I mentioned earlier, video clips captured on an iPhone and texted to an Android are compressed beyond legibility, and those cute little hearts and thumbs-ups you attach to someone’s messages in a group thread have yet to be made fully compatible between the two operating systems. (If I text my girlfriend, an iPhone owner, “I love you,” there’s a good chance I’ll receive a text in response that says “Rebecca loved ‘I love you,’ ” instead of just seeing a pink heart appear on my message. What! Why?) Other times, the texts from my friends simply aren’t delivered—due to some unknowable machinations beyond the veil—a happening which, to be honest, can be both a blessing and a curse.
Regardless of all these annoyances, I generally assumed that the cultural rancor surrounding the iPhone/Android dichotomy would be reserved for the tech companies in charge of the mess. You can dig into the technical weeds and high-stakes corporate bartering to understand why the two dominant smartphone developers can’t come to a reconciliation, if you want to become more angry (mostly at Apple!) and more hopeless. In a more coherent society, we’d be picketing the headquarters of both Google and Apple until they fix an endemic, tangible problem that, quite frankly, doesn’t seem all that hard to solve. But unfortunately, we are not so evolved as to bite the hand that feeds, so this horrible age of smartphone passive-aggression rages on.
“I have a group of friends from college who are all on the same group chat. When I was in LA, we hung out every week,” says Nicole Conlan, a writer for The Daily Show and—yes—a proud Samsung adherent. “So when I opened Instagram one day and I saw them all hanging out without me, I was immediately like, ‘What the hell?’ I got like five texts back that were like, ‘We forgot you’re not on the Blue Thread! It’s annoying to text Androids so we started a new thread without you.’ ”
Conlan expressed to her friends that the existence of a secret group text—created with the specific intention to ostracize her and nobody else—hurt her feelings. They understood her displeasure and have been generally contrite, but only to a point. The Blue Thread still churns away without her presence; not even the prospect of a damaged friendship could pierce the iPhone hegemony. Resentment continues to simmer.
“Now they just have one representative from the Blue Thread text me when they make plans,” adds Conlan. “I know this story comes off as, like, ‘I think these people just didn’t want to hang out with you, Nicole.’ But we hang out all the time! I have individual text threads going with all of them! If they’re trying to dodge me, they’re not doing a very good job.”
Conlan has no plans to concede her preferred smartphone. In fact, the persecution has only made her more poisonously smug in her Android unilateralism. I can totally relate. The Portugal debacle has practically guaranteed that when it comes time to trade in my phone for an upgrade, I will be bringing home another Samsung while my loved ones scream, cry, and beg me to repent. In fact, I would argue that percolating consumer indignation and good old-fashioned spite are the primary reasons why Android is holding on to its market share in the first place—you know, alongside the cheaper cost, larger screens, and superior options for customization (sorry, haters.) You will pry it from my cold, dead hands.
To reiterate, these are the lightweight squabbles of childless thirtysomethings. My smartphone disputes are glib in nature; the stakes could not be lower. But sometimes, the format wars can get far more personal. When I reached out to Colin Crook, a 48-year-old PR professional in California with a wife and two kids, I was not surprised to hear that after years of relentless familial shade—from his 11-year-old, in particular—he has made the decision to switch to an iPhone to salvage the integrity of his iOS-dominated household. As a Samsung lifer, it brings me no pleasure to report that bullying works.
“I’m being forced to give in. I had never taken the time to understand the iOS user’s gripe. These two phones don’t work together, and with 80 percent of people on iPhone, why don’t you just switch?” says Crook. But: “Any of my wife’s texts with multimedia just don’t come through. When you get a video of your son in the school play for Matilda, you can’t see it. It’s a drag. … My family is always telling me, ‘If you had an iPhone, this wouldn’t be screwed up.’ That pressure is more powerful than anything anyone else has been able to inflict on me.”
Unlike Crook, I have yet to experience authentic human shame for my Android usage. When that day comes, in the distant future—when I stare at a blocky, detextured video file of my kid’s first steps on the Android I’m still using due to a testy Portugal vacation several years before—I’ll probably have my own moment of reckoning. I’ll retire from the fight and join the Apple federation. At last, I’ll be able to see everyone’s hearts and thumbs-ups. It’ll be like Frodo reuniting with Merry and Pippin at the end of Return of the King.
Barring that, the Biden administration should step in and force Google and Apple to figure something out. (There honestly might be some governmental momentum in that direction, starting in the EU.) Android and iPhone users alike can all acknowledge that the smartphone OS schism is empowering our worst instincts. Please, for the love of god, save us from ourselves.