Sunbird Messaging, an up-and-coming software company, wants to revolutionize messaging on Android. Its app — appropriately named Sunbird — promises iMessage without the need for an iPhone. It assures us that the days of the green bubble are numbered.
The lack of iMessage on Android has pained users for years, as Apple refuses to adopt a more universal standard, such as RCS. While some have turned to third-party services like WhatsApp and Telegram for their messaging needs, others are left with SMS/MMS, an ancient set of standards that lack any basic sense of security.
Not to mention the bullying some childish people engage in to browbeat and shame their peers into getting an iPhone. Sunbird wants to address all of this by providing a seamless Android iMessage experience that not only bridges a gap that shouldn’t exist in the first place, but maintains the utmost security and privacy while doing so.
Though it is still in its alpha stages, Sunbird shows great potential as a viable solution to the green bubble “problem.” Here’s what I think so far.
A promise fulfilled?
Sunbird’s first standout feature is that unlike similar services, it doesn’t require a Mac device to act as a server to relay your iMessages to your Android phone. It acts independently, with the demo showing it looking like a middle man.
By all appearances, you sign in with your Apple ID and you have a nearly fully-featured third-party iMessage client. Typing indicators and delivery notices are done even in this alpha stage, with the developers assuring us that read receipts are coming very soon.
Reactions and group messages also appear to work well. The Sunbird app also supports pinning and muting threads, which plays well into its aim to be a unified messaging platform when support for WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Discord, Telegram, and more get added later. A web app is also in the works.
Sunbird also assured us that the app would continue to work even if things with iMessage changed. Since it’s not a hack or anything of the sort, it’s unlikely for Apple to flag Sunbird as violating its terms of service. That should ensure long-term viability.
Another hallmark feature of Sunbird is that you don’t need to have an iPhone lying around just in case something happens. Your number doesn’t get tied to Apple’s servers since you can use iMessage with an email address. Sunbird, as stated earlier, acts independently.
Focusing on security
Of course, with messaging, security is a major concern for a lot of people. Sunbird assured us that it does not store your personal information, including your messages or credentials. It fully supports each service’s two-factor authentication for sign-in.
For iMessage, Sunbird maintain’s Apple’s end-to-end encryption standards, which allows your messages to show up as blue bubbles. Most of Sunbird’s leadership has a background in cybersecurity, so the app has a structure based on those principles.
One stopping point for some — and one of the things that gives me pause — is that the app will require a Sunbird account to function. Some might call it the price to pay for iMessage on Android. However, Sunbird claims it will not set your data… yet. For now, the service centers itself on the user and will be totally free, at least for the time being.
The developers stated that they will add backup to Google support, too, though that’s a future feature. This means you will be able to back up your configurations and messages, though that capability won’t be available in the first few rounds of the beta.
Is it open source?
I asked if Sunbird is open-source, and the team answered “no” in no uncertain terms. (In fact, Sunbird replied by asserting that this app is a business, implying you cannot make money with open-source software, which is simply incorrect.)
And this is my biggest concern with Sunbird. With closed-source software, we’re left to trust the developers. I make no claims whatsoever that Sunbird intends anything nefarious, especially since it doesn’t store your personal information. Still, it's a big leap to put that kind of trust in anyone until they have more of a track record.
And with the hints that Sunbird might go freemium in the future and possibly start selling data to fuel its business model, the closed source nature leaves me even more uneasy. While I may be a free and open source software advocate, I think a “for the users” mentality is hard to align with closed-source. Not impossible, but difficult.
I do not discount the work Sunbird has put into its app, nor will I disregard future progress when I get the opportunity to try out the messaging solution for myself, but some Sunbird alternatives are open-source. That goes a long way for me.
So has the dream of painless iMessage on Android come true at last? Sunbird sure thinks so. It’s too early to reach that conclusion, though, as I’ve only seen demos of an alpha version without going hands-on myself. However, you should certainly pay attention to Sunbird in the coming months and years.
While my concerns about the closed-source nature will persist, I look forward to trying out the app for myself. I currently have a BlueBubbles solution working right now, but it requires me to run a macOS virtual machine 24/7 — not a problem for me, but certainly not the ideal option for everyone.
Sunbird promises a lot, but will it be a story of victory? Or will the company and its app fly a little too close to the sun? I will gladly watch to find out.