The ongoing cold war between Apple and Facebook that’s ratcheted up over the past few months, with each company’s CEO taking veiled and not-so-veiled potshots at the other over questions around privacy and user data, not only makes for great news copy and plenty of grist for tech bloggers. It’s also a hugely consequential matter for ordinary consumers, since it’s their data and their privacy at stake in the way Apple architects its hardware and services — and in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s beliefs about these issues. In yet another example of how this is all much more than a simple spat between Facebook and Apple, we noted at the end of January that Facebook is rumored to be prepping a lawsuit against the iPhone maker, believed to be focused on Apple’s App Store rules that competitors often try to claim puts them at a disadvantage.
While it’s become quite commonplace for the tech press to slam Facebook these days, and to ascribe a kind of guilty-until-proven-innocent framework to almost anything the social networking giant does, I’d like to take this opportunity to make what will no doubt be an unpopular declaration — by way of pushing back on this “Apple: Good; Facebook: Bad” motif that seems to irrationally color anything written about either company. More specifically, my focus is Facebook Messenger and how it compares to Apple’s own Messages app. I’m a longtime Apple user, and I have no qualms about praising things it does that haven’t caught widespread fire (like Apple TV+), but I want to state, flat-out for the record, that I think Facebook Messenger actually does at least five things better than Apple’s messaging product.
As with any app, service, or consumer electronics good, needs are going to vary among users, which is to say that this is not a one-size-fits-all argument that one of these messaging services is superior to the other. What I will say about my larger point, though, is that the distinctions between both of these companies are really not as black-and-white as people try to make them out to be. To wit, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some people claim that Apple’s Messages app is one of the few things keeping them tied to Apple’s ecosystem. I still default to Facebook Messenger every time, just to dive right into this, because:
Universality, no phone number required. I’m a journalist, and I have used Facebook Messenger to make contact with so many sources, from individuals to companies, that there’s no way I could even quantify how many. No need for a phone number or waiting for someone to respond to an email — assuming they’d even see it! Everybody dunks on Facebook, but the vast majority of people and businesses still maintain Facebook pages, which is great for someone like me.
The ease of reaching businesses. Indeed, the ability to quickly message practically any business in the world is pretty fantastic. As noted above, I’ve done this often for professional reasons, but the personal applications are numerous, as well — I’ve got a message sitting in my Facebook Messenger inbox right now, as a matter of fact, that’s an answer to a question I sent to a local restaurant. When I was still traveling a lot pre-coronavirus, I also pinged hotels and the like all the time through Facebook Messenger. You can do this in a much, much more limited fashion with Apple’s Messages app, but it takes in my opinion way more work on your part than it should to find businesses that will let you use the Messages app to reach them.
Spam — more specifically, the lack of it. Your experience may be different than mine, but I get an order of magnitude more spam through Apple’s Messages app than I do via Facebook Messenger. Here’s one I got via Apple’s app over the weekend (without the inclusion of the no-doubt dodgy link, obviously). It reads: “Amazon: Congratulations Andy, you came 2nd in today’s Amazon Earpods raffle! Click the link to arrange delivery.” No, thank you. What spam I have managed to receive via Facebook Messenger, meanwhile, has disappeared quite nicely into the app’s “other” folder/dumping ground for anything it doesn’t push to your main inbox.
Deleted messages. I have one very important (to me), ongoing chat thread open in Facebook Messenger. It’s between me and a loved one, and oddly enough, Facebook’s habit of making things near-impossible to delete serves me just fine in this case. Whereas if I deleted this thread on my iPhone, that’s it — it’s pretty much gone at that point. Facebook, on the other hand, still hangs on to deleted messages in an easy-to-access archive — and, again, since it’s a loved one I’m talking about here, I just like knowing it would still be there, and that I’ll always have it.
Syncing. This is a minor issue, compared to all of the above, but I utterly despise the way Apple’s Messages app shares notifications with me. Someone texts me, I get notified on my iPhone. Even after responding to the message there, I get the same notification again when I turn on my MacBook Air, as well as other Apple devices. I’m sure it’s a setting I can’t be bothered to deal with, but my preference is for these things to be handled the way Facebook Messenger does it. I answer a message, and … the message is, you know, not shown as new anymore, even when I open Facebook Messenger on other devices.
Of course, we can’t note all of the above without singling out Facebook’s extremely poor track record on privacy to include in the discussion. For some of you, never mind even if you agree with everything else I’ve said, the privacy issue is a deal-breaker, which is perfectly understandable — especially given things like the recent news that Facebook saves links that you pass along to other people within Messenger. Then again, some of you who feel that way turn right around and post on Twitter non-stop, sharing your thoughts and feelings and preferences with literally the entire world publicly that way, which seems pretty intellectually inconsistent, if you ask me.