How Apple's Blue Bubbles Draw You In and Keep You Loyal

It’s all about that sweet halo effect

  • Gen Z faces major peer pressure about using Apple's iMessage.

  • Users of iMessage and the iPhone go on to buy more Apple products.

  • Apple is just plain cooler than the competition.

<p>Tim Robberts / Getty Images</p>

Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Gen Z is nuts for iMessage's blue bubbles, and it's leading them to buy all of Apple's other stuff.

According to the Financial Times, fear of ostracism leads younger people to use Apple's messaging service. If they don't, their messages show up in the iMessage app in green bubbles instead of the native blue bubbles, and this can lead, says the report, to "pretty insane" social pressure. And, like a gateway drug, this leads users to buy iPads, Macs, and all of Apple's other products. The result? Apple is cooler than the competition.

"Apple has become a lifestyle choice, while other brands (especially Microsoft) are simply products, because Steve Jobs understood the value of understanding the humanities/humans, even in the world of tech," Dr. Michele Ramsey, Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences and Women's Studies at Penn State Berks, told Lifewire via email.

Massively Online

Gen Z, aka those born after 1996, spends around 6 hours a day online via their phones. A lot of that is chatting with friends. Outside the US, the majority of people use WhatsApp, but in the US, iMessage is the platform of choice. If a conversation occurs between iOS users, then iMessage can use all its features, and all chat members' messages appear in blue bubbles.

But if somebody joins in from a non-Apple device, their participation in the chat is via good old SMS, and their message bubbles are green. Because SMS doesn't support all iMessage features, their presence can upset the flow of the chat for everyone. Hence the pressure to comply, which has been a teen compulsion since teenagers existed.

[Steve Jobs] recognized from the very beginning that it was important to understand how humans tend to use communication to create identity...

"I actually ran an experiment with 400 people about how green vs. blue text message bubbles affect the sender's likability. The results show that the color of the bubble (and the implied iPhone vs. Android device) doesn't affect a person's likability, even for Gen Z and Millennials," Daniel Brown, a social scientist and the founder of AB Labs, told Lifewire via email.

It appears that this pressure, then, is not just because people prefer green or blue but because bringing a green bubble friend into a chat ruins the experience for everyone. It harshes their mellow, which is something Apple tries to avoid.

"[Steve Jobs] recognized from the very beginning that it was important to understand how humans tend to use communication to create identity, group inclusiveness, and the like, and he created products with humans and how they'd use them in mind," says Dr. Ramsey. "And though [Jobs and Tim Cook] both seem to have understood the humanities and how their products would likely be used by humans, as well as to what ends, I can't say they understood the far-reaching impact of social pressures their genius would inspire."

Messages Make Money

According to data from ad-tech data platform Attain, reported by the Financial Times, Apple grew its overall share of phone usage (as opposed to market share, which is units sold) to 50% last year, up from 35% in 2019.

Also, Gen Z users alone make up 35% of all iPhone users in the US.

<p>Angelo Moleele / Unsplash</p>

Angelo Moleele / Unsplash

This coupled with the interesting halo effect of Apple products, where users of one device or service slowly get sucked into using other products from the same company. This was first seen with Apple back when the smash-hit iPod enticed users to try the Mac, and Apple has only honed its game over the years since. iMessage, for instance, works on the Mac and iPad too. If you want a smartwatch and own an iPhone, the only sane choice is an Apple Watch. You can copy text or images on your phone and paste them into a document on your Mac. And on and on.

Then there are Apple’s services, of which iMessage might be the most important, even though it’s free once you’ve purchased an Apple device. Its recent Apple One bundle includes extra iCloud storage, Apple Fitness+, Apple Music, and more. If you make the easy mistake of signing up for the Family plan, you’ll probably never leave.

This is all great news for those who like Apple’s approach to privacy and enjoy its products. But not so great for folks who can’t or don’t want to buy into Apple’s expensive ecosystem.