How to escape iMessage and switch from iPhone to Pixel

You want to buy a Google Pixel, but your friends and family are all so firmly embedded in iMessage that you risk banishment to the social hinterlands if you ditch your iPhone. Apple's smartphones – most recently the iPhone 7 – win plaudits for their design, their camera performance, and their overall simplicity. For many, though, it's the stickiness of iOS-only apps like iMessage which makes the decision at upgrade time a no-brainer.

That's great news for Apple, but not so hot if you're wanting to buck the trend and try a different platform out for size. Google's brand new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, for instance, are wowing reviewers – ourselves included – with its slick Android 7.1 Nougat OS and Siri-besting Google Assistant. Many are curious about replacing their iPhone with a Pixel, but iMessage is usually the most-cited reason for not giving it a go.

You could wait for Apple to release an iMessage for Android app, but you're probably going to be waiting a very long time. Instead, it's time to go on the offensive. There are plenty of alternatives to iMessage out there, you just need to know the right way to bring your family and friends along for the ride.

Know your audience

iMessage is a broadly capable messaging system, but often users stick to a core set of features they know and are familiar with. That might be swapping photos with groups, one-on-one chats with lots of stickers, or the convenience of switching from IM to voice calls at a button-press.

Other apps can do those things just as well, however. Facebook Messenger has no shortage of stickers, and for many people their entire network is already on the social site. It'll do easy video calling, too.

If your group is made up of photo-sharing fiends, meanwhile, then Google Allo's tight integration with Google Photos might make a strong argument. That's doubly so if you point out that, unlike having to pay for extra iCloud photo storage, Google Photos will allow unlimited uploads from your smartphone and other devices.

WhatsApp is a hugely popular iMessage alternative, more so outside the US, and for good reason. It's cross-platform, works on both mobile and desktop devices, and is end-to-end encrypted just like iMessage. It can share documents, photos, and video too, voice messages and make calls, and uses your data connection (or WiFi) rather than your plan's minutes.

If privacy really matters, mind, you might want to pitch Signal. Encrypted individual messages, group texts, picture and video sharing, and no separate account requirement makes it one of the easier options to get started with. It's also available for both iOS and Android, of course.

Have an alternative ready to go

Be bold. Screw your courage to the sticking place, and don't half-ass it. Saying "we should dump iMessage and use X instead because it Y" is going to be a lot more convincing than meekly proposing abandoning Apple's IM client with no apparent idea of what to use in its place.

Go big or go home

It's tempting to treat IM addiction as a war of attrition, singling out one person at a time and weaning them off Apple's blue-bubbled teat. Problem is, unless a critical mass of people have switched over, there's little motivation to be the first, lonely few waiting for everyone else to catch up.

The only exception to this is if you can cherry-pick some of the more influential people in your network of friends and family, convince them, and then benefit from the snowball effect. If your party-organizing DJ friend (you do have a party-organizing DJ friend, right?) decides they'll only tell people the details of their next event via WhatsApp, that's a good reason for your whole social group to jump ship.

Be ready with the escape plan

You've done it, you've convinced them. Now you have to strike while the iron is hot. Like a good timeshare salesman, don't settle for a vague commitment of "oh, I'll check it out later": walk them through downloading the replacement app, setting up whatever account they need, and then demo some of the headline features you used in your pitch.

Of course, Apple doesn't make extricating your cellphone number from iMessage easy – certainly not as straightforward as it is to add it to your iTunes account in the first place. The official solution to deregister your number from iMessage is to do it from your iPhone itself. If that doesn't work – or you don't have the iPhone any more, you can head over to Apple's site and deregister it directly.

That, frustratingly, doesn't always work like it should however. Apple warns that it could take a few hours for all of its services to realize you're off the iMessage gravy train, but if you're still having issues with IMs and SMS going missing, it's best to contact support.

Don't be afraid of blackmail

This works best if you have a source of infinite cuteness to hang over their head. "If you don't switch, you won't see photos of my adorable baby / rambunctious kitten / cosplaying spouse" may not be as morally superior as a technical argument about open-ecosystems, but it can be a lot more effective.

Want to know more about Google's Pixel XL and why you might want to switch from iPhone? Our full review has all the answers!