If you haven’t heard already, Google is paving the way for end-to-end encryption for Google Messages. This is a big move as one of the big gripes with RCS versus Apple’s iMessage or WhatsApp is the fact that it doesn’t have end-to-end encryption. By getting this in place, Google takes away a huge issue with RCS Chat and makes it a very easy choice for many users to begin adopting it as their go-to messaging platform.
As a quick recap, Google Messages is the default Android SMS/MMS/RCS messaging platform that Google has been working on for quite some time. For years it was simply your default text messaging app. As other instant messengers took off like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, Google tried a few things like Hangouts and Allo, but none fully captured the market like iMessage or WhatsApp and a couple years ago, Google scrapped everything and went all-in on RCS Chat tech that is built into Messages.
RCS (rich communication services) has been the ‘next-gen’ MMS/SMS in the works for a very long time. It brings the ability for things like read receipts, high-quality images, GIFs and video into the SMS/MMS space. It even allows for group creation and the ability to see when someone is entering text on the other end. All the things we’ve become accustom to using on other IMs are here in RCS so that when you pick up your phone to message someone, you can send them a message right to their phone number via a data connection with all the creature comforts we expect from modern messaging platforms.
The big win for RCS is the fact that it is supposed to be a default service on everyone’s phone. The failure so far is the fact that it clearly is not. For instance, you never pick up your phone and wonder if that old-school SMS you just sent will be able to be received by the other party when you send it. Everyone has SMS, right? If RCS simply replaced that service in a clean swap, it would be the most-used messaging platform overnight. What is happening instead is silly back-and-forth with carriers over standards and other pointless bickering that has made the roll-out of RCS on the carrier’s end a long, drawn-out, endless affair.
With Messages, Google chose to circumvent the carriers and just implement things on their own end, shouldering the responsibility of hosting the service on their own infrastructure. While this is fantastic and it made RCS instantly available to anyone using Google Messages, it has a huge downfall: Google Messages is not the default messaging service on all phones. While it is available to all phones, the fact that your aunt Sue will go to the phone store, buy a phone and proceed to send texts via whatever app is pre-installed will be the biggest barrier to entry for RCS and Google Messages to really take hold.
With a competitor as fierce as iMessage, Google will need to take another step if it ever hopes to get Messages to really take hold. It is not enough for Google Messages to be available to everyone: it needs to be the default messaging app that ships with nearly all Android phones. Either that or Google needs to work with phone makers to make certain their built-in messaging app supports Google’s version of RCS. With the amount of sway carriers hold over phone manufacturers, however, that doesn’t seem like the path to go down. Instead, if Google wants to really see Messages (and RCS by extension) take off, they need to put their foot down and make Google Messages the required MMS/SMS/RCS app on all Android phones out of the box.
They don’t have to limit what users can choose to install instead, but they need to flex their muscle a bit and make this change. Sure, Android is ultimately open source, but the Play Store and Google’s app ecosystem are not. Google needs to put its foot down and make this change so that Messages ultimately has a chance. What makes iMessage so pervasive here in the US is the fact that iPhone users have iMessage on their phones out of the box and don’t really have a choice in the matter. Most people don’t want to think about how they message or what service they are using. Instead, they use whatever app came with their phone when they first booted up.
Google Messages will never replace iMessage on iPhone, but if enough people begin leveraging RCS with this app on their Android devices, Apple will likely have to relent and make iMessage at least function with RCS as well and we could finally see the wall between Android and iOS come down for messaging services. With RCS, the needed tech is there as a possible standard for both operating systems that could allow people to have a unified way of communicating via text once again. As it stands right now, the ‘blue bubble/green bubble’ thing was entertaining for a bit, but it needs to go away. The pieces are in place for that to happen, but Google’s going to have to get more proactive in getting RCS on Android phones for that future to ever materialize.