Call it outside pressure, future proofing, caving to massive public aggravation, or looming mandates from the EU – whatever reasoning pushed the final domino over, I can’t believe I’m actually typing this right now. Apple is officially bringing RCS support to iMessage, and one of the most ridiculous discussions in tech (in the US, anyway) is finally on the clock to die for good.
How we got here
So, you may be asking what RCS is. If so, the quick answer is RCS has been adopted by mobile carriers to replace SMS/MMS. RCS is more like what you expect in any instant messenger with the ability to handle larger files sizes (pics and video), give read receipts in real time, and deliver messages via end-to-end encryption. It’s the backbone of Google Messages, it is completely cross-device compatible (if implemented) and it has the means to solve the issues we see in the US with poor messaging experiences between iOS and Android phones.
Now, you may be asking yourself – Couldn’t all these people simply use something like WhatsApp or Telegram? Yep. But here in the US, iPhone users simply tend to exclusively use iMessage (mainly due to free texting plans from years ago before smartphones were a thing – we Americans love our texts) and getting just about any of them to change that habit is akin to pulling teeth. Yes, I know this isn’t prevalent in nearly any other country around the world, but it is a deep-seated issue in the US; and while RCS isn’t the perfect cure, it is the clear and obvious path forward.
What this actually means
In a statement to 9to5 Mac today, Apple made the shocking announcement that they are finally making concrete plans to bring RCS support to iMessage. It’s really no different than having iMessage support SMS/MMS as it currently does. iMessage is just another instant messenger app that happens to have an insanely high adoption rate for iPhone users since it is also the de facto texting app on those phones. Adding RCS to this mix won’t drastically change iMessage for iPhone users that much: it just gives iMessage a new platform to support.
Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.via 9to5 Mac
Blue bubble, green bubble
How Apple will actually integrate this solution will be a mystery until next year, but I’d imagine the blue/green bubble situation won’t change. While it doesn’t need to be as in your face as it currently is, iPhone users should know when they are receiving an iMessage versus an SMS/MMS/RCS message. It’s no different than wanting to know the difference when using something like Facebook Messenger. I don’t use Messenger for text messages, but many do, and users wanting to be able to tell the difference when a MMS/SMS arrives is understandable.
And with Apple being Apple, I have a hard time believing the colored bubbles will go anywhere anytime soon. The only thing that will change is likely going to come down to the way users interact with one another using iMessage and something like Google Messages. RCS offers a lot of what we all look for in a messenger, and Apple has plenty of pressure from the EU to make sure iMessage remains interoperable, so I’d guess that even if green and blue bubbles stick around, they won’t signal the same annoyance they once did for iPhone users. Hopefully, group chats, better photo/video sharing, and more will be fully baked into iMessage’s RCS support when it arrives.
Don’t expect this soon
Finally, Apple is saying “later next year” for RCS adoption, so it could be well into 2024 before this actually arrives. Again, I’m sure some of the fine print in the EU legislation likely has a time frame set for companies to get their affairs in order, but right now we don’t know what that is.
But when this glorious day does arrive, it could mean trouble for stand-alone messaging apps like WhatsApp here in the US. If I can just use Google Messages with everyone and enjoy all the group chat, media, and other perks I rely on WhatsApp for, I’d really have no reason to keep it around any longer. While I guarantee Apple will keep some fun goodies just for iMessage users in their app, this move will essentially bring down the wall that has been dividing iPhone and Android users for years, and I can’t wait.