About a month ago I switched from an iPhone to a Nexus 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 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.