Apple’s secret iPhone lock-in feature

If you’ve been following my twitter feed you’ll know that about a month ago I finally made the switch from AT&T to Verizon (brief conclusion: what took me so long? from my experience this month, the VZ network is vastly superior). At the same time I decided that I’d give Android a real try (I’d played around with it in the past, but never adopted it as my primary device). Enter the Galaxy Nexus. The slightly over-sized, slightly too much of a battery hog, but generally pretty well executed device from Samsung which at the moment is the only Android device running Ice Cream Sandwich (for those of you wondering why I didn’t just get another iPhone, the quick answer is that having paid $450 to “upgrade” to the 4S, I just couldn’t bring myself to take my total wasted spending on that device to almost a grand). I’ll drop a full post on my iPhone to Android experience in the near future.

My transition was going reasonably well until I started hearing from people that I was no longer responding to their text messages. And with my iPhone still sitting in its stand plugged in at my desk, I noticed a few texts showing up on my old device. Strange. I had ported my number and couldn’t figure out why there were texts still showing up on my old phone (or from a network perspective how they could have even gotten there). I took the SIM card out of my iPhone. I noticed that I could send a text from my Galaxy and the response would come back to my iPhone. I borrowed my wife’s phone and manually typed in my phone number to text myself a test message and it would show up on my iPhone and not my Nexus. None of this made any sense, but it was seriously annoying.

Finally Ross, our director of IT, figured out what was going on. Users with iPhones were having their texts directed through iMessage. And the kicker is, that short of people actually turning off iMessage completely on their phones, there was no way to prevent this from happening when they were sending a “text” to me. TechCrunch wrote a story about this in early January and suggested a work-around where I could deauthorize my phones through Apple. But unfortunately this didn’t work either (at least it didn’t for me). It’s an incredible bug and hard to believe that Apple hasn’t already figured out a fix to (clearly the problem is on their side – they intercept the messages on the sender’s device and decide to route them through iMessage; in my case that means anyone who has iMessage enabled on their iPhone is sending their messages into the ether). So now I’m stuck trying to decide how badly I want to stay on Android, whether it’s worth traveling with my iPhone so I can pick up stray iMessages (although only when my iPhone is attached to a wifi network since I have no other connectivity on that device) or whether I should give up and buy a Verizon version of the iPhone. I had planned to at least consider switching back with the iPhone 5 but Apple is really forcing my hand here.

I’m curious if anyone else has encountered this problem and if so what they’ve done about it.

  • on iPhone, go to Settings | Messages | iMessage + turn it off

    • i’ll try that (in fact i may have already done that), but believe that it will just turn off my ability to send iMessages, not redirect people responding to me.

      • My tests – assuming you can reproduce the results – confirm that shutting off iMessage on my end impacts the entire conversation.  

        I looked at Jen’s phone and saw the change from iMessage -> Text Message and then back to iMessage when I turned it back on.  The delayed receipt is huge give-away, too.

      • Anon

        The iMessage service (on the sender’s side) should know whether the recipient has iMessage enabled or not, this should be a non-issue for you if you turn it off on your device.

  • Rajazuhaib

    I had same problem but i called the service provider, in my case its Bell canada, and they fixed it but took more than 24 hours though.

  • Kiowavt

    Don’t you mean the phone companies’ not-so-secret huge revenue feature??  You may see this as a lock in feature, but I see it as a way to drop a texting plan, an over-charged feature I dislike and rarely use, but don’t want to prevent people messaging TO me.  Since I happen to love my iPhone and now can have iMessage on my computer and iPad, and actually keyboard a response, I am not so negative about this feature.  

  • Someguyinbaltimore

    It’s sad that you even have to do that. One more reason to purchased an unlockable device from a HW manufacturer like htc or samsung. These limitations are bad for consumers and bad for innovation.  I had a similar problem back with the first iPhone. So I purchased a Nexus One from google, unlocked it with instructions from them, and started finding apps that would make my life easier everyday. Wifi tether built-in the settings, widgets on the screen, great battery life, mutitasking, sd cards. Productivity around every corner. Only two years later, and I have a phone triple the speed, with HDMI out, Larger screen, better battery life, lots more on board memory, software that doesn’t lock me in, still have SD cards, dual sim cards, mail, contacts, apps, settings, wifi passwords, and bookmarks and documents, all synced when your turn on your phone and put in your gmail credentials.  No need to do anything else. That is beauty… To Steve Jobs: You were always bitter that google put their all instead of stifling technology by holding it for ransom feature by feature…that’s not innovation.  

    • AnotherGuyInCharmCity

      It seems like you just really wanted to get up on a soap box..

      • Someguyinbaltimore

        Soapbox or not…He asked what others have done.

        TL;DR: we switched to android the better platform that truly cared about innovation. Plain and simple.

    • Gingko

      except that if Android implemented the same feature as is, your unlockable device would behave the same. This has nothing to do with openness, it’s a software bug.

      • Someguyinbaltimore

        a software bug your wouldn’t encounter because android hasen’t implemented this “feature”.

  • Jon

    Why don’t you just activate your 4S on Verizon?

    Not saying that the iMessage strangeness isn’t something that needs to be worked out, but the 4S works on AT&T and VZW. There’s no specific hardware version for either carrier…

  • G from gcade

    This is fixable. In case merely turning off imessage on your old device doesnt work, you may also have to reset your phone ( this may delete your data but resets the imessage settings to apple right away ). 

  • Keepitsimple

    How is this a bug? You have the phone in a cradle at home with wifi connectivity!! Sounds like you should, oh I don’t know, turn it OFF. Your iPhone friends will fail sending to your iPhone via iMessage and their phone will failover to SMS message mode. Alternatively if you still want the iPhone experience go and turn iMessage off in message settings.

  • Mike Greczyn

    For me, having switched to android before the iPhone 4 came out and (pretty much) never looked back, that’s more of an android lock-in feature.

  • Lledray

    I wanna to toss in the towel with Apple as well…I have been going batty trying to understand why I’m receiving text messages to my old cell phone number that I had over 2 yrs ago while I was on Verizon! Now mind you I have a completely new number and this is my 2nd iPhone w ATT… I never even had a iPhone w Verizon when I had that old number, how could any of this be linked?

    • Truly – this is all an Apple, iMessage issue. As crazy as it sounds, that seems to be the common link. Log into the Apple site and go to the device manager (it’s in one of the comments to this post) and disable the phone in question and see if that works…