Apple announced this week that it would begin providing RCS support in 2024 in a startling reversal. The choice effectively puts an end to one of iOS and Android’s longest and most perplexing conflicts. Do n’t worry if you’re unsure of what any of that means because we’ll explain what might change once Apple adopts the GSMA’s next-generation messaging protocol.
One of the most widely used messaging systems worldwide is the Short Message Service ( SMS ). It was created when mobile technology first emerged. Neil Papworth, a Vodafone engineer at the time, sent his boss the first SMS text message in December 1992, saying,” Merry Christmas.” By the beginning of 2011, 3.5 billion people, or about 80 % of all mobile phone users worldwide, were sending SMS messages each month.
However, the standard will have some significant shortcomings in 2023. Text messages from SMS are 160 characters long and cannot contain images, videos, audio, or GIFs. Cell phones have long relied on the Multimedia Messaging Service ( MMS ) as a supporting protocol for this, but it too has some technical drawbacks, such as appallingly small message size restrictions. Additionally, SMS does not support end-to-end encryption.
SMS has one distinct advantage over instant messaging platforms, despite the fact that it feels out of date in this day and age. SMS messages are routed through your carrier’s mobile network, so using the technology does n’t require a data plan. Because of this, more sophisticated protocols, like iMessage, have frequently relied on SMS as a backup.
Although it is occasionally marketed as” Advanced Messaging,” RCS stands for Rich Communication Services. In either case, it frequently serves as a next-generation SMS and MMS replacement. Users of RCS can benefit from a number of features that were previously only available on popular messaging apps like WhatsApp.
For instance, read receipts and typing indicators are fully supported by the RCS Universal Profile. Additionally, it can enable appropriate group chats and enable users to send high-resolution pictures, videos, and audio clips. Google’s implementation of RCS also includes end-to-end encryption ( E2EE ) by default for both one-on-one and group chats as of earlier this year.
RCS messages are routed over a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection, as opposed to SMS texts, which are used as backups. The older protocol is probably not going anywhere anytime soon as a result.
RCS is not and has never been thought of as a substitute for or rival to instant messaging apps, which is something to keep in mind. RCS is fundamentally a means of communication between mobile phone providers and their customers. Utilizing RCS does not necessitate registering for a new service. You can utilize everything the protocol has to offer as long as your phone and carrier support RCS and you’re using a compatible app, like Google Messages, provided that the recipient or recipients of your message adhere to the same requirements.
What role does iMessage play in all of this?
A few months before Steve Jobs passed away later that year, Apple unveiled iMessage in June 2011. In contrast to RCS, iMessage is a proprietary messaging protocol that is only supported by Apple on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac devices ( aside from some unofficial workarounds ). Apple intends to include RCS support in its Messages app starting in 2024. The two protocols do not currently communicate with one another, though. As a result, when users try to send texts and media files to an Android phone, Apple’s Messages app will automatically switch to SMS/MMS.
Even though Android users are not to blame for the situation, from the perspective of an iMessage user, it can appear as though they are stuck in a bygone messaging era. Media files become pixelated, there are no read receipts or typing indicators, and iMessage fails to attempt to involve multiple iPhone and Android users in a single group chat because it relies on SMS/MMS for Android communication.
What brought us here?
Despite the fact that RCS work started before Apple unveiled iMessage, the protocol was doomed to a slow rollout due to one significant drawback. The GSMA, a trade organization that represents the interests of the entire mobile communications industry, is involved in the multi-stakeholder projectRCS. When Google purchased Jibe Mobile in 2015, it became more involved in the growth of RCS. Google effectively serves as the glue that binds the RCS ecosystem together using Jibe’s technology, but for a very long time, the company struggled to bring all of its stakeholders together around an agreed-upon objective.
In fact, there were false starts in the early stages of RCS, with some carriers—including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—forming a short-lived joint venture to advance the protocol before joining forces with Google. Before finally agreeing to make Messages by Google the default messaging app it ships on US phones, even Samsung did its own thing for a while.
Apple has n’t had many reasons to adopt RCS as a result. Why, after all, would it offer a freebie to an incompetent rival? Additionally, it appeared that there was little to no chance that the situation would change anytime soon, even as recently as last year. When asked about RCS messaging at the Code Conference in 2022, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded,” I do n’t hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy into that.” His last words on the subject were,” Buy your mom an iPhone.”
However, the historic Digital Markets and Services Act ( DMA ) of the European Union was also passed last year. According to the law, “gatekeepers” must not favor their own systems or forbid outside interference. Any business that satisfies particular financial and usage requirements is considered a gatekeeper. According to the law, one such business is Apple.
Google claimed that iMessage violates the DMA and sent the European Commission at the beginning of November. The timing of Apple’s RCS announcement and the deadline for businesses to challenge the DMA at the EU General Court is probably not a coincidence. Apple will contest its DMA assignments, the EU announced on Friday. Although the specifics of Apple’s complaints are not made public, Bloomberg reported last week that Apple intended to contest the App Store and iMessage gatekeeper designations.
Does Apple’s support for RCS mean that iPhones wo n’t have green text bubbles anymore?
To tell now would be premature. Apple revealed very little information about its plans for RCS message display and handling on its devices on Thursday. The business also stated that iMessage” will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.” However, Apple’s adoption of RCS will result in a better user experience for both iOS and Android users, even if you interpret that statement to mean that iMessage will continue to display texts from non-Apple devices differently than those sent from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Again, Apple must provide details, but it’s simple to picture a time when RCS will enable the Messages app to properly display high-resolution images and videos sent from Android phones and enable group chats between iOS and Android users without causing any damage. Apple also announced on Thursday that it would collaborate with GSMA members to enhance the current Universal Profile protocol, concentrating on integrating end-to-end encryption.
Of course, it is more difficult to determine whether that interoperability eliminates the stigma associated with green bubbles.