Apple To Add RCS To Improve Texting Between Android, iPhone

The difference with messaging or texting on an Android device and an Apple iPhone, may be about to shrink in the coming year.

According to a report from 9to5Mac, Apple told the publication that it will add support for RCS messaging in 2024, the newer standard used by most Android phones.

It comes after Apple has faced years of pressure from Google for it to adopt the cross platform RCS messaging protocol in its iMessage service.

Google pressure

Google had first deployed the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard in its Chat app back in 2019, after unveiling the rival to Apple’s iMessage service back in 2018.

RCS was intended as a replacement for the SMS and MMS messaging protocols, but its adoption had been hampered for a number of years by the refusal of some carriers and mobile operators to support it.

But Google’s championing of RCS transformed its adoption.

Samsung in 2022 switched to using Google’s own RCS-compatible Messages app by default in its flagship Galaxy S22 range.

Unlike SMS and MMS, Google Chat with RCS allows for read receipts, as well as the sharing of higher quality attachments (photos etc), and users are also able to see when their contacts are typing.

The bubble colour in iMessage distinguishes Android (green) users from fellow iPhone users (blue), and last year Google sought to shame Apple over its refusal to adopt RCS for iMessage.

Google created the “Get The Message” website, touting the message that “it’s time for Apple to fix texting.”

That Google website contained a set of arguments for why Apple should support the standard, revolving around smoother messaging between iPhone and Android devices.

Shortly after that Apple CEO Tim Cook dismissed the idea of adopting RCS messaging to put an end to the green bubbles that surround messages when iPhone users text someone on an Android device.

Cook even told a reporter to ‘buy your mom an iPhone’ if you want to end green bubbles, after the reporter said to Cook that his mother can’t see the videos he sends her due to the lack of interoperability between iMessage and RCS.

RCS on iPhone

Now Apple has reportedly said that in 2024, the iPhone will add support for RCS messaging.

“Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association,” Apple spokesperson Jacqueline Roy told 9to5Mac in a statement.

“We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS,” said Roy. “This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”

The iPhone adopting RCS could enable support for encryption, read receipts, typing indicators, high-res images and videos, and more, when sending texts between iPhone and Android devices.

Apple will also reportedly let users share locations in text threads and RCS messages will be green, like SMS messages are now, the company confirmed to 9to5Mac.

It’s still not clear exactly how RCS messaging will work on iPhones, but 9to5Mac says “this is not Apple opening up iMessage to other platforms”.

RCS will instead replace SMS and MMS and “exist separately from iMessage when available.”

Regulatory pressure

It could be that Apple’s change of heart is down to regulatory pressure from the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA).

The DMA requires gatekeeper firms to make their services interoperable with other platforms.

In September, the European Commission began an investigation into iMessage to determine whether it should be considered a “core platform service.”

However, Apple reportedly argued iMessage isn’t popular enough in Europe for the rules to apply, and it is planning to file an appeal against the government’s regulation of its App Store.

Apple changes

Forrester’s VP principal analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee, noted the number of changes that Apple has been forced into, because of the EU’s DMA legislation.

“First, it was goodbye lightning and hello USB-C,” said Chatterjee. “Now it’s RCS support. Apple has built a reputation for going its lonely and highly profitable way, but even that streak of independence must be tempered.”

“Both the adoption of the USB-C for the new iPhones, as well as the support for RCS messaging, is Apple’s way of getting ahead of European Union regulations which would likely have forced its hand in any case,” said Chatterjee. “Better the company own it and market it to their advantage.”

“Since the early days of ‘I’m a Mac’ marketing that sought to separate Apple from the dowdy PCs, Apple has taken great pride in building its tribe,” said Chatterjee. “The blue bubble is a badge of the Apple tribe, and this distinctive identity, as well as the company’s iMessage platform, is not going anywhere anytime soon.”

“Instead, RCS support will enable a smoother and better customer experience for iPhone users communicating across platforms,” said Chatterjee. “The company hopes that’s a win-win for all – their customers get to inhabit Apple’s world, but also play nicely with others.”

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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