Apple is about to face an issue raised by former iPhone owners that the company has, for years, continuously ignored.
Ex-iPhone owner Adrienne Moore has filed a lawsuit against Apple accusing the iPhone maker of interfering with Moore's contract with her wireless provider Verizon and intercepting text messages sent to Moore by other people who have an iPhone and use the default messaging app iMessage. Moore, who is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, says Apple failed to inform her and many other users exactly how it would obstruct the delivery of "countless" messages once she switched from her iPhone 4 to a Samsung Galaxy S5.
"When a text message is sent from an Apple device user to a person whose telephone number used to be associated with an Apple device but is now used on a non-Apple telephone, the message is not delivered to the non-Apple device user on her new non-Apple device," says (pdf) Moore's complaint. "Worse yet, this person receives no notification whatsoever that a text message directed to her was not delivered."
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California has rejected Apple's motion to dismiss the complaint and ordered Cupertino to appear in court to face Moore's allegations. Koh says the "plaintiff does not have to allege an absolute right to receive every text message in order to allege that Apple's intentional acts have caused an actual breach or disruption of the contractual relationship."
In court papers submitted by Apple, the company says (pdf) it "takes customer satisfaction extremely seriously", but the plaintiff simply cannot sue Apple when "technology simply does not function as plaintiff subjectively believes it should."
To be clear, the issue here is not about the lack of an iMessage app on Moore's Android device. It is about iMessage taking over a user's text messages and refusing to send it to her phone number once she switched to a non-Apple device.
iMessage is Apple's own WhatsApp-style default messaging app for iOS. Similar to Google Hangouts, iMessage blends texts and SMS messages into a single interface so that users receive messages and SMS from the same app. Unlike Hangouts, however, users of iMessage have no idea if the message they received was sent as an SMS. iMessage takes over and delivers all SMS as iMessage messages, which is all well and good as long as users stick to their iPhones.
However, the problem takes place when those iPhone users switch over to other smartphones that don't run on iOS. Because Apple's iMessage system thinks the user's phone number is still associated with iMessage, it continues to take over all SMS sent from another iPhone and deliver them as iMessage messages. But since someone using an Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry phone does not have iMessage installed on his device, he doesn't receive any of his texts at all.
The issue is known to persist for years, with Apple's support forum showing several discussions for the same problem with the oldest dating back to 2011. Apple Care representatives have responded by saying that users can deregister their phone numbers by turning off iMessage in their old iPhone and uncheck their number in all their Apple devices, a response not deemed satisfactory by users who no longer have their old devices. And even then, many users who have done exactly what Apple's support team have told them report that they are still not receiving SMS from iPhone users.
The problem is beyond a mere inconvenience. For some users, being unable to receive text messages from iPhone owners has cost them significant business losses. Esthetician Amber Johnson of Oakland, for instance, says she received emails from customers who were angry because she was not responding to their texts. Johnson says the disappearing texts likely cost her hundreds of dollars in lost business.
In May, Apple publicly responded to the issue after Moore filed her complaint in court, saying that a "server-side bug" was preventing many former iPhone owners from deregistering iMessage and the company will release a fix at an unknown time in the future. That fix turns out to be a new online tool released by Apple a few days ago, just in time for its first hearing with Moore on Nov. 13.