Google’s push for RCS is too little too late to fix iMessage problem

There is certainly nothing “new” in Google’s arguments; we all understood the situation, but we had accepted iMessage exclusivity and stopped questioning it every day. This new public outcry, however, has managed to once again shine a light on Apple’s tactics and the anti-social behaviors it implicitly encourages among American teenagers. It’s also the first time Google has been clear about what it would like to see from Apple: RCS.

The problem, however, is that RCS is an older protocol that does nothing to fix Google’s email issues.

RCS: yes or no?

Screenshot of Google's RCS website showing the chat features of Google Messages

Why wouldn’t Google want RCS? The protocol works with your phone number, is natively supported by (many) carriers, doesn’t require you to download or sign up for any specific app or service (technically), and offers several chat features modern. Typing indicators, delivery and read confirmations, rich media and location sharing, group chats and optional end-to-end encryption are all part of its feature set. And when you don’t have a data connection or the other person doesn’t have RCS, it falls back to SMS.

In a nutshell, RCS is like SMS, only better. Except that’s not the case. Not all carriers have it enabled yet. Not all phones support it. Not all implementations are the same, especially in terms of encryption, as this bit is optional. And even if you download Google Messages and use the now supposedly global “chat features,” you’re still at the mercy of Google’s servers which can crash or become buggy at any time. Which they did quite frequently.

To verify: How to enable RCS messaging on your phone

RCS is also entirely dependent on your phone number being activated when you send or receive messages. This makes it closely tied to your carrier bill (h/t Ron Amadeo for bringing this into the discussion). If you happen to miss a payment or have a problem with your carrier, or if you live in a country where number portability is difficult or non-existent, your line goes down, as does your ability to use SMS. and the RCS. This is different from IP based chat services where you can reconnect at any time in the future, get all your pending messages and continue where you left off.

RCS is too late for the cat game

rcs vs google pixel 4 xl whatsapp messaging app icons

The fascination with texting is, undeniably, US-centric at this point. The rest of the world has completely embraced IP-based messengers, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Signal, WeChat, and QQ. The change didn’t happen overnight, it’s been over a decade and at this point, if you live outside of the US, chances are everyone you know is using the one of these apps.

These IP-based applications have made communication easy and as universal as possible. They are cross-platform from Android to iOS (and sometimes Windows, Linux, Mac and Web) and are updated worldwide without the need for a carrier. Some of them use a phone number to identify you (yes, just like SMS and RCS) but allow portability between numbers; some prefer to rely on username or email to be more open to everyone. Many of these apps offer end-to-end encryption in all chats, including groups. Many have added voice and video calls, to give you more options for communicating. And all of them are regularly updated with new features.

See also: RCS vs WhatsApp – Thoughts from a longtime WhatsApp user

The RCS protocol, on the other hand, was announced in 2007 and receives a minor update every year or so. The best (Wikipedia). It has been catching up with the messaging innovations of its IP competitors for years and will likely continue to do so. It also requires many partners – carriers and device manufacturers – to agree and implement it.

Talking about returning to the SMS app in 2022 is a bit like talking about DVD players in 2022.

But the biggest public pitfall of RCS, in my opinion, is one of perception. To use it, you must use the SMS application. For anyone who has switched to IP-based messengers, this seems a bit absurd. The SMS app is where we get all our spam. It’s the same app we mentally associated with 2FA codes and courier delivery notifications, and nothing else.

Talking about going back to the SMS app in 2022 is a bit like talking about DVD players in 2022. Some people still have one, but very few people use them. It feels antiquated, like a gigantic leap back in time and space to a technology and interface we abandoned a long time ago.

Google has wasted many opportunities to get it right

Google Hangouts 2021 7

Joe Hindy / Android Authority

Google had not one, not two, but many, many, so many chances of getting the right messaging. Google Talk, Hangouts, Voice, Allo, Chat, Messages, not to mention the countless chat features integrated into other applications (YouTube, Photos, Pay, Maps, etc.). I’m sure I forgot dozens more.

For more than a decade, the company threw one strategy after another at the wall, hoping one would stick, to no avail. The whole thing became a sad joke, to be honest. And even the most ardent Google fans and apologists can no longer convince those around them to try another Google chat app. They’ve played the “it’s the right one, I swear” card way too many times for anyone to believe them.

Messaging apps transcend mere “it’s an app” status. They become life, our life.

And while Google was spinning the messaging app wheel, everyone was moving on. Apple users in the US are way too invested in iMessage. Android users all over the world have switched to IP messaging apps. We’ve all spent over a decade talking to our family, friends, colleagues, and businesses about these apps. We’ve formed groups, built chat history, fought, reconciled, joked, and shared thousands of photos and videos. Messaging apps have transcended mere “it’s an app” status. They have become life. Our life. Alas, Google failed to capture that emotional attachment or loyalty.

Dig deeper: Why iMessage is so important in the United States

You can’t manufacture that kind of relationship with software. Either it grows organically or it doesn’t. And for many of us, neither SMS/RCS nor Google come to mind when we think of our favorite digital conversations with loved ones. Google has missed being part of this conversation and it can’t get involved in the equation just because it would love to.

Say Apple supports RCS…

iMessage vs. Apple Texting

… What will this change? Not a lot. Apple could very well give Google what it wants and add support for RCS. Those using Android phones will have a slightly better experience when talking with Apple users. They will get higher quality media, keystroke indicators, receipt and read acknowledgments and possibly end-to-end encryption. Any other functionality implemented by Google or Apple in their own service will not pass to the other side unless added to the RCS protocol. At best, it could help Google retain US-based Android users, especially teenagers, which it has yet to lose to Apple.

However, no one is forcing Apple to change the color of the RCS chat bubble to blue. He could very well keep that color exclusive to iMessage-to-iMessage chats to signal exclusive features, and that’s the end of the conversation. The perception of the green bubble would not change no matter how many keystroke indicators and read receipts you see there.

Read more: Remember — A green bubble is also a person

The only solution to the bullying problem is for Apple to disable its color coding, and that part has nothing to do with RCS support or not. It could happen if Apple releases iMessage on Android, though. But that’s not what Google is asking publicly.

The only solution to the bullying problem is for Apple to disable its color coding, and that part has nothing to do with RCS support or not.

This part is, frankly, the one that confuses me the most about this recent outcry from Google. The company must be aware that there is a big gap between the argument on which it bounces (the intimidation of the green bubble) and the solution it offers (the RCS). Why he continues to push for RCS is perplexing. Google should be aware that the RCS battle is pretty much lost everywhere but the United States. He should also be aware that the perception of US mail is not about RCS support either.

So why push for RCS? It must be because all of Google’s eggs are now in this basket and to do another messaging reversal would be ridiculously catastrophic.

In the messaging game, does RCS stand a chance?

422 votes

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