As if the mobile messaging landscape weren’t complicated enough. Sprint is now the first US carrier to offer RCS (Rich Communications Services) using Google‘s universal standard in the Messenger app. Do Android users finally have a universal text messaging service that can compete with iMessage?
What is RCS?
Before getting into Google’s “keep throwing up messaging apps to see what sticks” strategy, let’s look at RCS. Apple, Facebook, Google, and others offer rich messaging experiences through their respective applications. Simple SMS/MMS communications cannot offer the features you get with iMessage or Facebook Messenger. Nevertheless, SMS is still the most popular messaging service that people use. RCS is an effort to avoid having to download a separate app, and then making sure your friends have that same app, too. You simply send a text from your SMS app like you do everyday, and get the rich features that those other services offer. Simple, right?
Is Sprint the First?
In July 2015, T-Mobile was the first US carrier to launch RCS, as “Advanced Messaging”. However, it was only available on certain Samsung phones on T-Mobile’s network. If you sent a text to someone with a different brand, or on a different carrier, it would just function as boring SMS. AT&T followed suit with a similar setup, and these two services are not compatible.
Meanwhile, the GSMA signed on 49 carriers worldwide to implement a universal standard that would be completely inter-compatible. This universal profile is due to launch on November 17. Google’s RCS profile, which Sprint is now using, is based on this universal standard. That’s what makes Sprint’s announcement such a big deal. Time will only tell how quickly all the other carriers transition from their competing services to this universal RCS.
While all this has been going on, Google has been trying to figure out their own mobile messaging to compete with iMessage. After Gtalk died, they tried Hangouts, Messenger, Allo, and also Duo for voice calling. This really illustrates not putting all your eggs in one basket. Instead, they have an egg in each basket, leading to confusion for users. The new Allo app is amazing, but it is yet another thing to get your family and friends to download.
iMessage’s success can be credited to the tight control that Apple has over the iPhone. Carriers don’t load their own bloatware onto iPhones, so everyone on iOS can simply talk to each other with a rich messaging experience. Google never mandated all Android manufacturers to do the same. By the time they had some kind of focus with Hangouts, services like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and others exploded. Now that they offer multiple messaging services, it is hard for an Android user to decide which one to use. Many times, they just revert to their bland SMS app that they have always had, because “it just works”.
Hopefully, RCS is widely adopted soon among all these competing forces. Is this finally the answer to iMessage? That depends on if everyone can play nice.