In an era where instant messaging apps are thriving, the good old SMS has been left far behind in the race. Unless you use the iPhone — or are in the Apple ecosystem — then iMessage is rather cool to use with its blue coloured exclusivity. Google in the last few years has been making a serious attempt to improve the messaging on Android with RCS — Rich Communication Services. But it is having trouble convincing Apple to join for a more unified messaging system across mobile platforms. However, Google needs more than Apple to improve messaging on Android smartphones. What is RCS and how it will improve messaging on Android
RCS is Rich communication services and is actually a replacement of the existing SMS and MMS (does any MMS at all these days?) system. RCS isn’t actually new and came into existence in 2007 and the industry trade body GSMA took over in 2008. In the following years, it has existed but only in 2019, Google came into the picture. Think of a platform which quite like WhatsApp — live chats, sending photos, videos , documents — and put it in the Messaging app on Android phone and you get what RCS is.
Why does Google want Apple on board for RCS?
Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president, Google explained in a series of tweets, which came after quite openly accusing Apple of ‘bullying’. Lockheimer said that Google isn’t asking Apple to make iMessage available on Android. “We’re asking Apple to support the industry standard for modern messaging (RCS) in iMessage, just as they support the older SMS / MMS standards,” he said in a tweet. Google’s argument is quite solid as Lockheimer explained, “SMS has evolved, and it’s better. You can see read receipts, typing indicators, better groups, secure 1:1 messages (groups coming soon) etc. That new standard is called RCS, and it’s available now.” He further said that supporting RCS would improve the experience for both iOS and Android users alike. “By not incorporating RCS, Apple is holding back the industry and holding back the user experience for not only Android users but also their own customers,” he tweeted.
Google’s patchy history with messaging apps
There are far too many failed experiments in Google’s portfolio in the last decade or so when it comes to messaging. Apple introduced iMessage in 2011 and since then it has improved tremendously. Google, on the other hand, with Android messaging was slow to react to iMessage. WhatsApp came and swooped in the Android user base and Google was: a) slow to react; and b) didn’t really have a stand out messaging app. Google has been in the messaging game far longer than any other company. Go back to 2005 when GTalk was introduced and we are looking at 16 years of creating, improving, killing and being rather confused at what the message (pun intended) it wants to send out to users.
Google Hangouts has perhaps been the most successful messaging service from Google. And yet it has been tinkered around a lot. So much so that it was ‘killed’ last year to be replaced by Google Chat. Then there was Google Allo — a direct WhatsApp rival — which was launched in 2016. Being a Google app, there was an initial buzz but it was a bit all over the place, which meant that it didn’t even last for a couple of years and was shut down in 2019. Google has tried to put the messaging in many of its apps. There was YouTube Messages, Maps Messages, Stadia Messages — yet none of them has actually taken off. If SMS has been on the deathbed for so many years, a lot of it is down to Google not getting messaging right for so many years.
Will RCS work for Google and will Apple get on board?
RCS looks quite a practical and solid thing on paper. But this Google with a rather chequered history of getting it wrong when it comes to messaging apps. A big problem for RCS would be that it was launched in 2008 and some of the systems can’t be changed. For instance, there’s no end-to-end encryption in RCS, a feature that matters a lot for those who value privacy. Google may believe that getting Apple on board might make RCS roll out global and on a mass scale. But Apple is extremely unlikely to get on board. Apple has made it quite clear on multiple occasions that how much it doesn’t want people to leave its ecosystem. iMessage is an integral part of that ecosystem. If Apple does accept RCS then the ‘exclusivity’ will be lost and messaging with Android users will become easier. What it could lead to is a lot of iPhone users might switch to Android and that is a chance Apple is unlikely to take.