The company behind the Nothing line of phones is preparing to launch an app that will solve the “green bubble” problem for Android users sending messages to their iPhone-using contacts.
First unveiled November 14, 2023, Nothing Chats is a free app that basically lets your text messages show up as green bubbles in iMessage chats, while supporting features like group chats, live typing indicators, voice notes, and full-resolution media sharing. But there are a few catches. Update: Very BIG catches. More on that below.
The first is that Nothing Chats will only work with the Nothing Phone (2) at launch. It will also only be available to users in the US, Canada, UK, and European Union. And, the app relies on a third-party service called Sunbird which is expected to remain free “for the foreseeable future,” but the way the service works makes it pretty clear that at some point somebody is going to have to pony up some money… if the company doesn’t get shut down by Apple in some way first.
That’s because Apple’s iMessage service only really supports Apple devices including Macs, iPhones, and iPads. So how does Sunbird make it possible to access iMessage features from Android? By using Macs as a proxy.
In a nutshell, here’s what happens when you use Nothing Chats (or Sunbird, which is in private beta at the moment):
- You create an iCloud account.
- Your messages are sent to a Mac Mini that’s acting as a server.
- It’s then forwarded to your iMessage contacts.
- Their responses go through that Mac Mini and make their way back to you.
Sunbird says the advantage is to this system is that, unlike some other Android-to-iMessage services, you don’t need your own Apple device that runs 24/7 for the service to work. And if you’re worried about sending your info to somebody else’s server, the company claims your iCloud login details are stored in an encrypted database, and your messages are end-to-end encrypted and will not be stored on any of Sunbird’s computers. And if you don’t use the Sunbird service for more than two weeks, your account information is deleted automatically.
At least that’s what the company claims. But even if everything worked as promised, using Sunbird and/or Nothing Chats would mean trusting a third-party company with your Apple account info. And right now it doesn’t look like Sunbird’s service does deliver on its promises: shortly after the service launched on November 17, 2023 users noticed that messages sent as plain text without any encryption.
Nothing has responded by pulling Nothing Chats from the Google Play Store, at least temporarily.
And even if that issue is resolved eventually, (which it may or may not be), it’s also unclear how long Sunbird can remain a free service. It clearly costs a fair amount of money to maintain a set of macOS devices in the cloud and manage the bandwidth necessary for users to send and receive messages. So Sunbird and Nothing Chats are unlikely to remain free forever.
Finally, some iMessage features also still aren’t available yet. For example, read receipts and message reactions and replies are listed as “coming soon,” and there’s no way to edit messages that have already been sent.
This article was first published November 14, 2023 and most recently updated November 18, 2023.