Elon Musk threatens to make an iPhone and Android rival if Twitter is banned

Elon Musk photo on phone with Twitter logos in background
(Image credit: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

With Elon Musk’s breakneck-speed transformation of Twitter welcoming back accounts previously deemed dangerous enough to permanently ban, there is an open question as to how Apple and Google will respond. 

Parler and Donald Trump’s Truth Social have previously been blocked by the two dominant app marketplaces for prioritizing free speech over content moderation. And while both have now been readmitted after making concessions, it’s possible that Twitter’s path could see it being blocked by Google Play and the App Store, too.

So what would Musk do if that happened? While other free-speech-focused apps have taken a more hands-on approach to moderation in response, Musk claims he would take a less conciliatory approach.

“I certainly hope it does not come to that, but, yes, if there is no other choice, I will make an alternative phone,” he tweeted.

Elon Musk phone a serious threat?

How seriously should we take that? Both seriously and not at all.

Let’s start with the serious end. Musk remains the richest person on the planet, and he’s clearly a man who’s not above making impulsive decisions as buying Twitter while foregoing his right to due diligence shows. 

Essentially, nothing is stopping him from entering the smartphone world if he wants to, but despite the many eager responses and positive polls posted by Musk superfans in response, it would be a massive uphill struggle to get even a fraction of Apple and Google’s mobile OS market share. 

Between them, the two have the market entirely sewn up, having successfully elbowed out companies that aren’t exactly short of money such as BlackBerry and Microsoft. Even Amazon — with the massive advantage of having the world’s most popular e-commerce storefront for free promotion — crashed and burned when it attempted to enter the smartphone world, and the less said about the HTC and Facebook collaboration, the better.

Despite accepting Twitter polls as sufficient evidence to decide consequential Twitter policy, Musk will know that on-platform surveys spread amongst his biggest fans don’t exactly meet the standards of polling methodology. Voting ‘yes’ in a poll is not the same as getting your wallet out and pre-ordering a hypothetical (and likely expensive) product. 

Even if it were, making a smartphone isn’t exactly something that happens overnight. And with Musk privately not ruling out the possibility of Twitter going bankrupt, time wouldn’t be on his side were Apple and Google to pull the plug.

It’s also worth highlighting that Musk says a lot of things — especially on Twitter — and not all of it should be taken at face value. Most recently, he promised that no decisions about unbanning Twitter accounts would be made until a moderation council had formed — a pledge that lasted all of 22 days.

With that in mind, the phrasing of the tweet is important: “if there is no other choice” is quite a telling phrase. There are loads of possible choices, including tougher content moderation — the option that both Truth Social and Parler picked.

In short, yes, Musk could build his own phone, or one branded with Tesla or Starlink. But it’s hard to imagine executives at Apple or Google losing any sleep over the possibility — and even less chance of it having any impact on the decision to ban Twitter, should it be discussed. 

If that was the intention of the tweet, then it feels more than a little misguided.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.