The idea of iMessage for Android sounds like a pipe dream, and for the most part, it is. Apps like AirMessage and Bleeper today make it possible to get iMessage on your Android phone, but they often require complicated networking and Wi-Fi port forwarding, plus a Mac or iPhone to run in the background 24/7.
These applications technically they work, but they are not things that the average user can comfortably and reliably rely on. A new app — called Sunbird — now promises to change that.
iMessage on Android, now simplified
Sunbird isn’t the first app to promise iMessage for Android, but the way it achieves it is pretty unique. Sunbird doesn’t require you to fiddle with a Wi-Fi router or buy another iPhone to get iMessage on your Android phone. Instead, you just download the Sunbird app to your Android phone, sign in to your Apple account, and your iMessage conversations appear like magic.
How is that possible? Sunbird says it doesn’t use any hacks or other shady techniques to pull this off. Instead, it apparently uses the official APIs/logins. Sunbird demonstrated this during a recent virtual press briefing, where someone opened the Sunbird app, tapped the iMessage icon, and entered their Apple ID email/password. After submitting this information and confirming the two-factor authentication (2FA) code, iMessage chats appeared on the Android phone.
iMessage chats on Sunbird support one-on-one and group chats, typing indicators, message reactions, and full-resolution photo and video sharing. Read receipts are not available Enough yet, but Sunbird plans to add them in January or February.
WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, oh my
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But Sunbird doesn’t just support iMessage. Sunbird wants its app to be the one-stop shop for all the messages on your Android phone. The app also works with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, texting and our own Sunbird-to-Sunbird messaging platform when two Sunbird users are talking to each other. Down the road, Sunbird says it will add other platforms like Telegram, Signal, Slack, Discord, Instagram DM, LinkedIn messages, and even RCS support.
What is particularly interesting is that Sunbird maintains native end-to-end encryption systems for all these platforms. If you chat via iMessage, your chats are supported by Apple’s native E2EE for iMessage. If you use Sunbird for WhatsApp messages, they are protected by Meta’s own encryption for WhatsApp.
Some lingering questions
That all sounds great. But is any of this safe? Sunbird certainly claims that. During the press briefing, Sunbird made it clear repeatedly that the app never saves your login email, passwords or message content. At one point, the company said, “If we don’t have the data, it can’t be broken in.”
I’m also still scratching my head about how Sunbird does all this. During the demo, the company showed the setup process for adding WhatsApp to Sunbird. It looked exactly like the process of adding WhatsApp to a desktop browser. Enter your login information, scan the QR code and you have access to WhatsApp. Simple enough.
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But get iMessage conversations just by signing in to your Apple ID? I remain skeptical there. Apple does not have an official API that allows you to access iMessage in a web browser. If that were the case, we’d have dozens of Android and Windows apps doing just that!
By design, iMessage requires your Apple account to be signed into an Apple device — whether it’s an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Sunbird didn’t really clarify how it transfers your iMessage conversations using only your Apple account information, and that’s something I’d like to see explained sooner rather than later.
Now you can try Sunbird
However, the Sunbird concept is still exciting and it’s one you can try now if you’re so inclined. Sunbird is launching its closed beta on December 2nd and will gradually onboard 50,000 users over the next six months.
You can sign up for a waiting list on Sunbird’s website and download the app via the Google Play Store. After the beta period, Sunbird aims to launch the app for everyone in mid-2023.