I used the worst app of 2023

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Nothing Chats app turned the Android-based Nothing Phone 2 into an iPhone and then a security and privacy nightmare. What started as a huge PR win for the new tech brand suddenly became a big enough problem that it pulled the just-released app from the Google Play Store because it didn’t effectively secure your data.

We tried the app on the day it was released, just before it disappeared. This is what Nothing Chats was like – and what its failure could mean for Nothing.

What happened to Nothing Chats?

The Nothing Chats home page in the app
<span class=credit>Andy Boxall Digital Trends<span>

Before getting into the details of the app, you need to understand what Nothing Chats offered. By logging into Nothing Chats with your Apple ID, every message sent to an iPhone would be a real iMessage, enclosed in its desirable blue bubble rather than the green bubble normally associated with a message from an Android phone. You would no longer be a social outcast, ostracized from society solely because of your choice of smartphone.

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Nothing Chats was released as a beta app, alerting potential users that it was a work in progress. However, once knowledgeable people started looking into how the app worked, serious security flaws were discovered. How serious is this? Much data was stored in the clear and therefore easily accessible to others. This is a major concern for any app, let alone a messaging app. We have all the details on the findings and what happened next in our report, but what about the app when you can actually download it?

How Nothing Chats works

The Sunbird information page in Nothing Chats
<span class=credit>Andy Boxall Digital Trends<span>

Nothing Chats brought iMessage’s blue message bubbles to Nothing Phone 2 via the Sunbird platform. Sunbird is a UM app that offers the same functionality, and since the Nothing Chats issues, it has also reportedly shut down while it investigates. Before it was removed, Nothing Chats effectively let you skip Sunbird’s invite-only queue and give the middle finger to green message bubbles.

The app was only compatible with the Nothing Phone 2. Once you downloaded the Nothing Chats app, it had two connection options: one for RCS messaging and the other for iMessage. Logging into RCS required giving access to Sunbird using a QR code, and it was a simple process. To get iMessage, you only needed an Apple ID.

When connecting to iMessage, Nothing Chats showed up in my list of approved devices as a Mac Mini, making it not only confusing but also slightly worrying. This is similar to the Beeper app, which appeared as a random Google Pixel phone located in Cyprus when I connected the app to Instagram for direct access to messages.

Blue bubbles from an Android phone

Nothing Chats on a Nothing Phone 2 compared to iMessage on an iPhone 15 Pro Max
<span class=text>iMessage on an iPhone 15 Pro Max left and Nothing Chats on a Nothing Phone 2<span> <span class=credit>Andy Boxall Digital Trends<span>

The question you’re all asking is: “Were the message bubbles blue?” » If that’s what you wanted most, you would have been delighted, because the bubbles in messages sent via Nothing Chat were blue. However, the promised typing indicator didn’t work for me, and after checking with Nothing I was told that they should start showing up after chatting with someone for a while. Obviously, I never got that far.

It wasn’t just the hit indicator that was missing. I shared and received images without issue, but the messages didn’t have read receipts on the iPhone side of the conversation, a feature Nothing Said would come in the future. On the Nothing Chats side, messages appeared with a “Seen” rather than “Read” tag.

The integration with iMessage seemed solid, as all the messages I received through Nothing Chats arrived on my MacBook and iPhone, but usually a few seconds behind both of them. However, the timing was slightly off; When I responded on my iPhone, the messages I typed didn’t appear in Nothing Chat’s history. Outside of iMessage, Nothing Chats was a plain, feature-rich messaging app, but the design fit the theme of Nothing Phone perfectly.

A very big bet

Connecting to RCS and iMessage in the Nothing Chats app
<span class=credit>Andy Boxall Digital Trends<span>

Nothing Chats was a bizarre app and a huge gamble for the growing brand. It made kind of resolve this whole blue bubble/green bubble thing, but at what cost? For starters, there would have come a time when the person you were messaging would discover that you didn’t have an iPhone at all, which could have made for a pretty awkward conversation.

you too had to own a Nothing Phone 2, and if you didn’t, it would cost you $600 to get one and then play with Nothing Chats once it was in your hand. The Nothing Phone 2 is a great buy, but if your only motivation was to get iMessage and blue message bubbles, then why not just spend a little more to get the $800 iPhone 15?

Signing in to iMessage in the Nothing Chats app
<span class=credit>Andy Boxall Digital Trends<span>

By effectively making it look like you were messaging people from an iPhone, you could see that the Nothing Phone 2 was the perfect buy for people who wish they had an iPhone but didn’t have it. I’m sure Nothing would say it was just about “bringing down the walls” and giving people what they wanted, but it was still a strange marketing message.

Carl Pei, CEO of Nothing and co-founder of OnePlus, is no stranger to bold and fashionable marketing campaigns, and Nothing Chats was probably his boldest yet. The app initially did what it was supposed to do: shine a spotlight on Nothing and help build its reputation as a disruptive force in mobile – which, if things had gone differently, could have been a big victory . Unfortunately, Nothing Chats didn’t do well and the fallout could be a big problem.

What is happening now?

The Nothing Chats icon on a Nothing Phone 2
<span class=credit>Andy Boxall Digital Trends<span>

Nothing Chats made the right decision to quickly remove the app, and while early adopters are unlikely to suffer from its flaws, Nothing’s reputation will have taken a hit and it must do everything possible to fix it . Security issues and data hacks are not uncommon, and brands have recovered from much worse situations. Still, Nothing Chats was an unnecessary risk seemingly taken primarily to grab headlines, and it’s shocking that the company didn’t take a deeper look at the app, especially since it was (and still is) advertised as secure.

The company has earned a lot of goodwill with a series of high-value, good-quality products, starting with the Ear 1 headphones and, more recently, with the Nothing Phone 2 itself. But Nothing Chats is a serious misstep. Recently, Nothing launched Nothing Beer and Nothing Apparel, confusing products that don’t seem to capitalize on the brand’s expertise or represent its core business. People can ignore clothes and beer if they don’t want them, but are less willing to overlook a tech company’s serious software security flaws that went unnoticed until third-party review after the publication.

Text taken from the Nothing website claiming that the Nothing Chats app is secure
<span class=text>Text taken from Nothings website claiming that the Nothing Chats app is secure<span> <span class=credit>Nothing<span>

We need trust the software on our phones, and the Nothing Chats error won’t help build trust in NothingOS or any of its pre-bundled apps. This is unlikely to help Sunbird much either, should its own app reappear. Nothing claims this will fix Nothing Chats, suggesting that he will re-release it in the future, but it is questionable whether this is a good idea. Nothing might be better off repairing its reputation in other ways. Whatever happens, monitoring of Nothing’s software will be tightened and its resources could be better used elsewhere.

Is Nothing Chats the worst app of 2023? It’s definitely going to be up there, but what Nothing and its marketing team do next might still prevent it from being a total reputational disaster for the young company.

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