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Stuck in the iMessage abyss? Here’s how to get your texts back

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About a month ago I switched from an iPhone(s appl) to a Nexus(s goog) 5. It was easy: I swapped the SIM card and synced my contacts. I was up and running in under 10 minutes. But right after I switched, I ran into a huge problem: a lot of text messages were getting lost — and it was mostly Apple’s fault.

I’m not the only one having these problems. On Tuesday, former Lifehacker editor Adam Pash wrote about his struggles. Unlike Pash, I was able to get text messages working well on my Nexus 5 — although it’s not perfect. Recently, I was told that my phone number still tells iPhones to FaceTime me. But because I was able to mostly fix the problem, I thought I would share what I did.

Here’s the issue: Apple’s iMessage, which redirects SMS messages to other iPhones through Apple’s servers, was still telling anybody who texted me from an iPhone that my number was still an iPhone number. The messages would be sent, the sender would see “Delivered,” and I’d have no idea anybody was even trying to get in touch with me.

The first thing you have to do to fix this is remove your phone number from iMessage in your iPhone’s settings. What I did was simply turn iMessage off. That’s fairly easy, and you can do it under Settings >iMessages. Reboot your phone and check your number under Settings > Phone > My Number.


But my iMessages were still being delivered to my iPad, despite the fact it doesn’t have a phone number. That’s because my iMessage account was also linked to my email address. iMessages are all or nothing: If you leave the iMessage environment, you’ve got to take it off all your Apple devices or you run the risk of missing messages. I repeated the steps on my iPad and disconnected any iMessage accounts there.

Finally, I still had iMessage on my Macbook. You can turn that off through the Messages app: Go to Messages > Preferences > Accounts. As I was turning it off, I was surprised that there was a complete log of the iMessages I didn’t get — including an invite to a party I would’ve loved to attend and a message from my mother about my taxes, two time-sensitive texts I hated missing.


Of course, these steps only work if you’re still in physical possession of the Apple devices you’re switching from, although that doesn’t seem to be the problem Pash is encountering. As the Verge’s Chris Ziegler learned back in 2012, if you don’t have the original device, the proper course of action is to ask every single one of your iMessage contacts to manually delete the conversation thread and reboot. Failing that, iMessage will “time out” after 90 days and turn itself off. A full remote wipe might be the best course of action in this scenario.

The smart consumer will make sure to deactivate iMessage before he sells or gives away his iPhone. With the proliferation of iPhone trade-in promotions, there’ll be a lot of people who forget to do this.

This isn’t a new problem, and Apple’s got several support pages and forum threads addressing it. Here’s one updated April 29 of this year called “Deactivating iMessage.” Of course, it says if you no longer have the device, you’ll be sent into an Apple Support labyrinth like the one Pash encountered.

I understand that Apple thinks this is a minor problem and that most iPhone customers end up being repeat customers, but it is a statistical certainty that there will be iPhone customers who want to keep their phone number and also want to switch to another platform, whether it’s Android, Windows(s MSFT) Phone, Firefox OS, or something that hasn’t even been invented yet. The problem is only going to become more widespread.

While iMessage is a great service — I’m still a fan — requiring customers to track down terse support pages or call up Apple service to regain the ability to fulfill what is one of the basic functions of a phone on a competitor’s device is almost anti-competitive. Pash notes that it’s an engineering issue and might be nontrivial to fix. Regardless, it’s time for Apple to put together a simple way to disconnect our iMessage numbers.

17 Responses to “Stuck in the iMessage abyss? Here’s how to get your texts back”

  1. G.Germanicus

    Note that in ALL cases the person had to originally opt into iMessage meaning they supposedly read the terms of service and KNEW that any currently registered Apple device on the network would get their messages that way and NOT through the traditional SMS system.

    There should be another way online by logging into Apple’s support and manually removing all devices from the iMessage list, but I’m not sure if the author even tried it. I used that page to ADD an eMail account to my iMessage chain, but it would be as easily used to remove it.

  2. Photogurl75

    I had the same problem, but was fortunate to have an Awesome Tech Support on At&T spend over an hour helping me. What we did that finally worked was go to > Support > Then Log into Support Profile. Once logged in you will see all the devices that have ever been associated with your Apple ID. Just Delete the phone you aren’t using anymore. Power Cycle phones & delete thread to be safe. That fixed mine. my daughters & my sons. Hope this helps ;-)

    • Lamar

      Couldn’t find a Login page following your steps: go to > Support > Then Log into Support Profile
      Maybe they updated their web page and took that off.

  3. Jon Finegold

    I had this issue as well when I switch from my iPhone to Scratch Wireless. I was able to remedy this but I agree, Apple needs to step-up and fix this.

  4. Justin

    Couple of my friends that switched from iPhone to android ended up just using messenger and blamed it on carrier/android. Of course being me, I told what their problems was and gladly fixed it for them

  5. Richard

    The ideal solution would be for Apple to release an imessage app on android, that way people could keep using the service on their ipads, macs etc. Can’t see it happening sadly

  6. Matt Myers

    Wife had the problem when switching. I didn’t. I ended up just calling apple Support and telling them to remove her number from the imessage servers. About 12 hours later she started getting her messages. Its annoying. To the point where if I did get another iPhone I would just disable imessage together on both phones.

  7. Grant Finlay

    I’ve had a related problem while living and working abroad, in a place where I had cellphone roaming but not data roaming. My daughters, who have iPhones, would send me text messages which they would be assured were delivered. But I would know nothing about them until I connected to wifi, sometimes days later. It’s a problem. My old blackberries used to count down a hierarchy of connections – so if both devices weren’t on the bb network, then the message would be sent as plain SMS. Much more sensible, logical, and reliable.

  8. Tony Obregon

    I just went through this mess a week ago as I wanted to escape the entire Apple ecosystem. But I ended up returning my Android device and went back to my iPhone to avoid the frustration. It was easier and quicker to give in than have to try to fix the problem myself. I will note this was only one reason for going to back to the iPhone, but a big one at that.

      • Krystal

        My sentiments exactly. Apple’s allegedly cool and transformational. Your products should speak for themselves, you shouldn’t have people bound to use them. I hate the way Apple does things.