Say you have an Android phone and you want to send a text message, what do you do? Well, if you do what most people do, you just open up the messages app and you tap on an SMS. But SMS is bad, due to many reasons.

  • It’s only 160 characters
  • You never know if they get it or not
  • The pictures in MMS are bad

Just everything is bad about SMS.

What else do you do? You should remember what messaging app your friend uses and open up WhatsApp or messenger or whatever and send it that way. This whole situation is a mess and it’s been that way since the very beginning of Android. Guess what Google says that it finally, basically for the first time ever has a fix to this whole conundrum.

Whats new?

Lets start with the basics of what is happening here because it sounds really complicated when you get into it but the end result is really simple at some point in the next six to twelve months we don’t have an exact timing yet, the default texting app on Android now called Android messages is just going to get upgraded so that it’s going to feel more like iMessage or Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp and you are going to get read receipts and high-quality pictures and videos. You’re going to get really good group texts, but keep in mind that it is not a brand new app it’s just a new feature and it has got a really simple name called ‘Chat’ on every single phone that it’s available. When you open up your texting app you’ll send a text and it will just magically be this nicer version of it.

Before explaining about the new feature, let us dive into the history of all of the things that Google has tried to make messaging work on Android.

The History of Google’s attempts

In 2005 Google launched the Google Talk and you might know it as Google Chat, it was really popular and it was really good. When Android launched in 2008 they included it alongside SMS because that’s what you do in 2009. Then the iPhone got push notifications which made apps like Whatsapp get super popular and then when they came to Android, it got popular there. So Google had a problem to solve and in 2011 they didn’t solve it they saw Facebook and they’re like “We want some of that” so they launched Google+ which had yet more chat apps in it.

In late 2011 iMessage and Facebook messenger came and they were way simpler than what Google had to offer. Google had to fix it again and so a couple of years later in 2013 they launched “Hangouts” for which they took all those other apps and combined them into a single app and everything was great for a couple of years and then the Hangouts didn’t get updated, Google+ was failing and then they pulled texting out of it and it was just a big mess again. In 2016 Google’s was like “we’re gonna fix it again” and they launched “Allo” for text chat and Duo for video chat. The Duo was super popular, Allo not so much, meanwhile hangouts turned into the league of enterprise slack competitor. We are not mentioning Google Voice and Google Wave and all the other crazy experiments Google have been doing. It has been a rolling ten-year disaster and Google has to fix it.

What is RCS and how it works?

Here’s how the new chat feature is going to work, it’s actually relatively simple if you have Android messages and your carrier supports Rich Communication Services (RCS) and you’re gonna send a text and then it will shoot up to your carrier server and then they got to figure out where it goes so it’ll go to a hub that will reroute it to the other carrier server and that other carrier identifies that the recipient has our CS too and they will get the rich message if they don’t they will get a standard text message. If they get a text message they will charge for text messaging rates if they get this special new chat message it won’t cost anything because it will be included in their data plan. If you are sending it to somebody who doesn’t have RCS or their carrier hasn’t supported yet or if they are using an iPhone, it is going to fall back to SMS.Samsung is gonna support it in their default text messaging app, LG and Huawei are on board and then if you look at the operating system providers we’ve got Google obviously and Microsoft is there and I wonder if that means there’s gonna be a texting app on Windows.

The Challenge

These all sound great, but there’s one problem – Our CS chats aren’t protected from government snooping in the same way that a fully encrypted chat system is. So if you need something fully encrypted you’re gonna need to use something like iMessage or Signal the reason that happens is our CS chats basically follow the same rules as SMS so the data gets stored on the server and if the government goes looking for it the carriers are probably more likely to give it up and it’s not like iMessage where everything is encrypted and they couldn’t possibly give it up even if they wanted to.

It seems like Android tried everything but they haven’t actually tried everything. Even right now they’re not doing what to me seems like the really obvious thing. They are not just making an Android equivalent of iMessage where you text a message and it goes up to Google. Google figures out whether or not you’re in the system and if you already get it and if you’re not it falls back to SMS that’s how iMessage works. Why aren’t they doing that on Android? The answer, if you ask Google is they will tell you that Android is OPEN SOURCE and they can’t make the default thing that just works with Google. So what they actually have to make it available for other people to build on. It’s a hard situation that Google’s in like do we fight every single carrier on the planet by taking away like one more piece of their control over what their customers do or do you partner with everybody and if your Google like you’re more likely to partner with everybody as Google does not play ball in a way like Apple does.

If it works, if all billion of those people have this new text messaging standard we don’t think Apple cannot get on board. We do think that there’s a really good chance that the iPhone is gonna pick up the CS support which a billion users of Android can then communicate with Apple phone users. If Google controls the most popular text messaging app on your phone then they can get all the stuff that they want to like Google assistant inside and they can have crazy Google stickers and tie up with Duo for video chat.

The bottom line is that if you have an Android phone you are going to get chat and your text messaging experience to get way better and no its not going to be as secure as iMessage or Signal but it’s gonna be a huge upgrade over SMS and honestly Google deserves some credit for managing to get 50 something carriers and a few dozen manufacturers to all agree on something that never happens. So SMS is gonna get a huge upgrade and hopefully, if we’re lucky this RCS thing is going to finally kill SMS dead.

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