A brilliant trick you should probably never use.
To make sure iPhone users don’t expect iMessage-only features when texting Android users, Apple marks the chat bubbles in blue (“you are texting someone with iMessage”) and green (“you are texting someone without iMessage”). This segmentation has then evolved into discrimination against green bubbles, especially among young smartphone users in the U.S¹.
Blue/green itself doesn’t do the trick. In fact, in an alternate universe, Apple could easily swap the colors and make you feel like green is superior to blue. How?
The blue Apple picked for the iMessage bubbles provides a better color contrast against the white text on it compared to the green Apple picked for the Android bubbles. In other words, Apple picked a darker blue but a lighter green to make iMessage texts more readable.
Color contrast is important because it impacts legibility, and in a messaging app, legibility is everything. Thanks to the darker blue, iMessage users end up with a better experience when texting other iMessage users and a poor experience when texting Android users.
Furthermore, every user has a different vision, screen brightness, and light condition. Image below shows how increasing the same amount of brightness for both bubbles easily worsens the legibility of green bubbles.
In fact, the green Apple picked doesn’t even pass the WCAG accessibility test, with a low score of 2.18 which is considered “very poor”². It impacts the user experience for everyone but especially for the users with visual disabilities.
To be clear, it is not the green that is gross. It is the low color contrast that is gross. A good green to use with white text would be, for example, the green on Medium’s UI which is more accessible than both Apple’s blue and green³.
Apple’s intention to color code their chat bubbles was to make sure iPhone users don’t expect iMessage features from non-iPhone users, but given Apple’s massive design resources and talents, it is likely no coincidence that Apple intentionally picked a green that adds friction to reading Android messages to make users stick to iMessage.
Apple builds great products and services like iMessage and it makes business sense for Apple to make them exclusive to its own users. That said, it is almost a universal rule for designers to never sacrifice accessibility to make a design work since accessibility is a fundamental pillar of good design. What do you think about Apple’s approach on this? Share, comment, like, or just do whatever that makes you happy.
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