As someone who lives outside the US (India, in my case) I am surprised whenever I see iMessage being described as one of the most popular and sticky features in the Apple ecosystem. Here are the main reasons why I use WhatsApp and Signal over iMessage.
Network effect: Using iMessage as your primary messaging service limits you to using it with others who have Apple devices. In places like India and Brazil there is a very strong network effect that forces everyone to use WhatsApp. Since Android doesn’t exactly have a negligible marketshare in the US, I am surprised that more people don’t use a cross-platform service.
Ambiguity: I have at times been charged for/lost messages that I meant to send as an iMessage but that got sent as an SMS/the archaic MMS because of a flaky/unavailable Internet connection. I like the certainty of knowing how my messages will be sent, especially when sending them internationally, which I cannot get with iMessage.
Spam: This is unfortunately still a huge scourge in India and I get at least 10-15 spam messages a day. While the in-built filters in Messages do a decent enough job of weeding out a lot of the junk, I still have to make sure that nothing important gets marked as spam and sift through all the noise to get to the handful of messages that actually matter. I have encountered far less spam on WhatsApp and none on Signal.
Multi-device support: While it is nice to have Messages on all platforms, Apple’s implementation often gives a false sense of assurance to the sender that the message has been delivered. Both WhatsApp and Signal require the phone to be in close proximity to the Mac for the app to work on the Mac and so a situation wherein a message is delivered to a Mac and shown as such, when the user is far away, perhaps even for days, doesn’t arise. I prefer this implementation as it enables the convenience of using the app on multiple devices and gives the sender an accurate indication of whether the message has been delivered in a manner that is accessible. I have also found Messages to be frustratingly flaky when it comes to syncing across devices.
There are many things I don’t like, and that make me uncomfortable and apprehensive, about WhatsApp (mainly privacy concerns given the Facebook connection and the ugly design.) I’d like very much to use Signal, which seems far more trustworthy, and is thoughtfully and beautifully designed, instead. However, given its ubiquity, it is almost impossible to function without WhatsApp in India. Depressingly, WhatsApp seems to still have an edge over Signal when it comes to stability and, for all its flaws, has always been rock solid in my experience.
I’d like very much to know what makes iMessage so popular in the US!