Google Chat Arrives For US Android Users

Google has launched its new ‘Chat’ service in the United States – a service that is touted as the search engine giant’s answer to Apple’s iMessage product.

Google’s ‘Chat’ app is based on the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard, and was launched back in April 2018, as a replacement for the humble SMS and indeed the MMS messaging services.

But its arrival on the world stage has not been straight forward at all. In June 2019 it emerged that Google had finally lost patience with the politics of mobile operators around the world, and announced it would begin to deploy its ‘Chat’ app to Android users via its own servers.

Troubled launch

Essentially, Google had spent the best part of a year trying to quietly corral every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting the technology (RCS) to replace SMS.

But this proved an almost impossible task due to “complicated carrier and phone maker politics” it was reported in June, leaving Google with little choice but to take over.

Unlike SMS and MMS, Chat will allow for read receipts, as well as the sharing of higher resolution attachments (photos etc), and users will also be able to see when their contacts are typing.

Chat first rolled out in June to users in the UK, France and Mexico, making them among the first in the world to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google, instead of waiting for their carrier to support it.

Google’s intension is to make this service universally available for all Android users in all countries.

US arrival

And now it is being launched in the United States first, CNN reported, although somewhat limited in nature.

Sanaz Ahari, Google’s product management director, has tweeted that US people need to update both their Messages app and carrier services to receive the new tools.

Like Apple’s iMessage, Android users can opt into the service or disable it if they don’t want it.

US users will be able to use the new Chat features with any phone that has Rich Communications Services enabled. But only American operators such as Sprint and US Cellular have already enabled RCS on their networks.

Unfortunately, three of the biggest mobile operators in the United States (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) can’t currently connect to each other via RCS.

There is also another major issue to the Chat app, that users will need to carefully consider going forward. Unlike iMessage, WhatsApp or Telegram, Chat will not be end-to-end encrypted.

Google has apparently pledged to deliver this encryption going forward, but in the meantime, Google can still technically see messages as they arrive on its servers and may have to turn them over to law enforcement if asked.

Data consumption

It should also be noted that users will need to opt-in to the Chat app, as it is technically still a carrier-based service, it will consume a person’s data plan, and not their SMS entitlement.

Chat will join a number of messaging apps that Google has played around with over the past few years.

This includes Hangouts (previously Google Talk); Allo (development is currently paused), Duo (video calling app), and Google Messenger (SMS and MMS app).

Quiz: How much do you know about Google and Alphabet?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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