This story has been updated. Head over and read the latest version.

On Colors, Gradients and Chat Bubbles

On the left is what shows up when Android users text message an iPhone. On the right is how iMessages are displayed.

In his latest exposé, writer and programmer Paul Ford describes a grave injustice occurring today: Apple’s public promotion of a new form of bigotry towards Android users. On Apple’s iOS 7 and 8 operating systems as well as OS X, text messages from Android users (and other non-iPhone users) display in a hideous neon-green gradient, unlike the obviously inoffensive blue gradient that iPhone and iMessage are displayed in.

One user told me “There is a lot of social pressure on kids in HS to not send green bubbles.” Another explained “this is a real thing in high school. You must have blue iMessage bubbles.”

It turns out that at high schools across the country, children are being bullied, and often worse. iPhone users are disowning family members and friends who use Android. An exasperated user explained that he was betrayed by his twin brother when the text messages sent by his brother turned out green on his phone.

This is not a trivial matter. Blue-bubble advocates are emerging as a self-described “racist” movement: “Since I gotta iPhone I’m android racist. Fuck y’all green bubbles.” Even more alarming was another user, secure in his iPhone-privilege, who publicly issued a call for genocide, proclaiming “Death to green bubbles.” Craig Federighi, the Senior Vice President of Apple, went so far as to use the word “inferior” to describe Android users and their phones.

If Tiffany is in high school, she’s likely having a rough time.

These underprivileged high schoolers who can only afford Android phones need our solidarity today more than ever. In Paul Ford, they have a true advocate. For Ford, the crisis has potentially dangerous sociological implications. Android users are being made to “feel poor, or socially inferior, because they chose to use a less-expensive pocket supercomputer than those made by Apple.” Anyone with sense must see the real similarities between this outrage that Ford is exposing and Jane Elliot’s Blue-eyes-Brown eyes experiment.

Ford sees these green bubbles as evidence of Apple’s “passive-aggressive” marketing. The conclusion he draws is that it is a marketing attempt to use these “ugly green bubbles” because he believes they very well “could to iPhone sales…and promotions.”

Apple’s blue screen of death icon represented Windows computers.

This is not the first time that Apple has been accused of victimizing their competitors’ products and users, as Ford points out. With the release of OS X Leopard, Apple depicted networked Windows computers in caricature, as a beige icon showing the blue screen of death (BSOD). In that case, the satirical icon was actually quite nicely rendered.

Apple’s much-reviled green and blue gradients are not used in isolation. They are strewn around their platforms.
This is the exact color palette that Apple proudly displays, as color sampled from icons throughout Apple’s product lines.
Giving credit where it’s due, Apple’s Marketing and Communications department, the team responsible for the aesthetic coup of iOS 7, was late to the garish colors party. Microsoft had been using similar colors on their Zune platform many years earlier, in 2006.

It seems Apple intentionally set out to make Android users feel jealous of the blue iMessage bubbles they were ‘missing out’ on. On their site, Apple explains their intentions: “SMS texters will be green with envy.” Somehow, Apple users (mostly in high school) and Apple executives have bought that logic, and deluded themselves into thinking that the ‘poor Android users’ are envious.

Android users are apparently supposed to be envious of these blue text messages.

This could not be more wrong. Android users never see the green bubbles, they only hear about these chat-bubbles secondhand. Moreover, they certainly never have to experience Apple’s dissonant color palette. If Apple’s intent was to make Android users suffer, they have done anything but. It is perhaps the most ineffectual jab that Apple has attempted, because the only people whose eyes burn are Apple users themselves.

Ford is half-right in his analysis. High schoolers will, unremarkably, find anything to degrade each other for, even something as trivial as whether or not they use iPhones. Yet Ford only gestures at the real story: “somewhere along the line things got flat.” That is exactly where things went wrong.

Apple’s palette on iCloud. It looks pretty similar to a default Photoshop gradient.
This is how colors are displayed on iOS.

Apple describes its philosophy as aiming to “surprise and delight,” but its decidedly avant-garde, modern minimalist, flat aesthetic has been designed to do precisely the opposite: shock and disgust. Their repulsive color scheme is illustrative of what it takes to make design stand out given the dominance of the flat aesthetic.


This article was originally published on elischiff.com. Visit the site to find out more about Humanist Interface, an upcoming book on interface design aesthetics.