Apple last week published a tool that lets iPhone owners sever the link to iMessage, iOS's texting service, when they leave the Cupertino circle of devices for Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone.
The tool, which allows former owners to disable iMessage even after they've disposed of their iPhones, was the first self-service option Apple has offered.
Because iMessage is enabled by default -- and is the standard texting service for iOS-to-iOS communication -- iPhone owners who had changed smartphones and kept their numbers were not getting texts from other iPhone owners. Apple, unaware that the user had deserted iOS for a rival smartphone ecosystem, was still routing iOS-originating texts to the recipient's now-unused Message app.
Some called it "iMessage purgatory," while others referred to it as the "iMessage black hole."
The problem had existed since 2011, when Apple introduced iMessage and the companion Message app, and was partly technical: Texts sent between iOS devices via iMessage don't transit a carrier's SMS (short message service) network, but instead are sent over the Internet.
iMessage's inability to reroute texts from iOS users -- and since 2012's OS X Mountain Lion, from Mac owners as well -- prompted at least one federal lawsuit.
"Unbeknownst to Plaintiff and the putative class members, however, once they switched from an Apple iPhone or iPad to a non-Apple device for their wireless service needs, Apple's iMessage and Message service and application still retained text messages that were directed at these persons from other Apple users, and failed to deliver these text messages to the putative class members as long as these putative class members continued using a non-Apple device," a May complaint by Adrienne Moore stated.
In her lawsuit, Moore described calls to both Apple and her mobile carrier, Verizon, in which she asked for help. Although she was eventually able to receive texts from some iPhone owners -- but not all -- she gave up when Apple told her to "get her text message senders to update their Apple iOS to the latest version, or have them delete and then re-add Plaintiff as their contact, or have Plaintiff and these unsuccessful Apple texters start a new text conversation with Plaintiff."
Previously, Apple told users to call its technical support desk for help in deregistering a long-gone iPhone's iMessage service, but that proved open to abuse.
The new tool aims to solve the purgatory problem by letting former iPhone owners, even if they have disposed of the device, route texts to non-Apple smartphones. After entering the phone number for the Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone device, the user must enter the confirmation code sent to the smartphone into the Web form.
Apple's self-serve iMessage tool can be found on its website.