Apple

Apple faces lawsuit over missing text messages

Former iPhone owners are finding their text messages disappearing into the ether when switching to Android because of a longstanding bug in Apple's iMessage service.

Apple iMessage

Apple is facing a new class action lawsuit in Federal District Court because of an ongoing issue with former iPhone users when they switch to a non-Apple phone.

The company introduced its iMessage service with iOS 5 in 2011. With it, iPhone and iPad users can send SMS-esque messages to each other over a device's cellular or Wi-Fi data connection rather than as a SMS text message, which can incur costly charges from cellular carriers.

When iMessage was launched, many users saw their monthly SMS totals drop significantly. My wife and I went from sending thousands of SMS messages a month to the low-hundreds, because so many people we communicate with also use iPhones. It's a very useful, free service — and, for the most part, it works very well.

When an iPhone user attempts to send a standard SMS message, the iOS operating system intercepts that message and, instead of sending it over the traditional cellular network, it sends it via Apple's iMessage service. iMessage is, among other things, more secure than standard SMS messaging — Apple uses secure end-to-end encryption that can't even be broken with a court order — and offers an ostensibly better user experience because of added features like read receipts and the ability to receive messages on multiple devices like iPads and Macs.

That's all well and good, until someone decides to move away from the iPhone and switch to Android. Adrienne Moore did exactly that earlier this year when she ditched her iPhone for a new Samsung Galaxy S 5.

However, she discovered what many others have noticed: when switching from an iPhone to a competing device, text messages from iPhone users continue to be diverted to the iMessage system, and users aren't informed in any way that they are effectively missing text messages.

According to reporter David Segal, who writes The Haggler column in The New York Times, friends and family can quickly become irritated with the recipients' failure to respond:

"When the Haggler texted his sister to ask if he could bring anything to Thanksgiving, she replied with 'Chocolate treats?!' Hearing nothing, she followed with the classic 'Hello??!!' Then the ever-effective 'You too busy to respond???'

"The Haggler knows what you are thinking: 'The Haggler has a sister? He isn't a caped, anonymous crusader who faked his own death years ago and lives a solitary, grumpy life as a consumer avenger?' No. He has a sister, and other relatives and acquaintances, and there is no telling how many were miffed by his text silence in the weeks after he quit his iPhone."

Business Insider published a histrionic article entitled "Furious iPhone Users Tell Us Apple Ruined Their Lives By Not Delivering Texts After They Switched To Android." I'm not sure whether not receiving text messages can really ruin someone's life, unless they end up in jail because of it. However, I can imagine it is super irritating, particularly since the advice coming through official Apple channels — support documents and the Genius Bar tech support personnel at Apple Retail Stores — is only occasionally successful and frequently ridiculous. One suggestion was to have all the contacts who might be sending text messages to the former iPhone user delete and re-add them to their contacts, which is a preposterous solution.

All this comes back to the lawsuit. Adrienne Moore vs. Apple Inc. seeks class action status for all users who may be in a similar situation — many thousands of potential victims, given the sheer size of Apple's ecosystem, all of whom may be missing text messages without even realizing it.

This could cost users time and have significant interpersonal and emotional consequences. Imagine a mother panicking because she hasn't gotten a text from her son or daughter who is off at college, or someone trying to text their boss that they're running late to a meeting.

The suit asks for Apple to fix iMessage so that users can properly remove themselves from the system when switching platforms, and it also asks for punitive damages to affected class members.

Apple has not given comment on the lawsuit to any publications, as per its usual policy regarding ongoing litigation.

What about you? Have you switched from the iPhone to another platform and experienced lost text messages? Let us know in the comments below.

About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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