Apple has announced that it will adopt the RCS (Rich Communication Services) messaging standard. The feature will launch via a software update “later next year” and bring a wide range of iMessage-style features to messaging between iPhone and Android users.
Apple’s decision comes amid pressure from regulators and competitors like Google and Samsung. It also comes as RCS has continued to develop and become a more mature platform than it once was. In a statement, an important Apple official confirmed that :
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.
RCS brings many iMessage-style features to cross-platform messaging between iPhone and Android devices. This includes things like read receipts, typing indicators, high-quality images and videos, and more.
Apple’s implementation of RCS will also give users the ability to share their location with other people inside text threads, the company says. Unlike regular SMS, RCS can work over mobile data or Wi-Fi as well.
Apple’s newest addition; What is RCS messaging? Everything you need to know about the SMS successor
Rich Communication Services (RCS) has been promoted as a replacement protocol for SMS, but it got off to a slow start and is still moving at a glacial pace.
Formed by a group of industry promoters in 2007, it was brought into the GSM Association, a trade group, the next year, where it languished for a decade. In 2018, Google announced it had been working with major cell phone carriers worldwide to adopt RCS.
The result is Chat, a protocol based on the RCS Universal Profile — a global standard for implementing RCS that lets subscribers from different carriers and countries communicate with each other.
Chat has evolved to visually resemble iMessage and other commercial messaging apps, but there are also some neat extras. Google teamed up with businesses to add helpful features to Chat, like branded informational messaging; sharing content like images, video clips, and GIFs; sending live updates about upcoming trips and boarding passes; and even eventually allowing customers to select airline seats from within Android Messages.
Chat is hardware agnostic, designed to work across multiple devices. Chat could also work on iOS, but Apple, which accounts for half the USA phone market and 70% of USA mobile phone owners between the ages of 18 and 24, does not support the protocol despite increasing pressure from Google to do so.
What can we take from Apple’s decision to shift to RCS messaging?
We’ve come a very long way since Tim Cook’s rebuttal of RCS back in 2022. At the time, Cook said that Apple hadn’t heard from many users “asking us to put a lot of energy” into bringing RCS support to the iPhone. “Buy your mom an iPhone,” Cook said when asked about the lackluster SMS experience.
Later that year, a report from Bloomberg revealed that Apple was not considering – at least at that time – adding RCS support to iPhone.
The elephant in the room is impending legislation in the European Union that could’ve ultimately required Apple to open up iMessage. Apple has pushed back against this legislation, the Digital Markets Act, arguing that iMessage is not that big hit in Europe to qualify as a “gatekeeper service.”
Just last week, it was reported that Apple is set to appeal to the European Union about the inclusion of its App Store and iMessage services in the Digital Markets Act. Nonetheless, Apple is getting ahead of any potential regulatory problems with today’s announcement.
When RCS support launches later next year, the limitations of SMS and MMS will no longer haunt (most) messaging conversations between iPhone and Android users. Availability can still vary from carrier to carrier, but all three major US carriers support RCS, as do the vast majority of other carriers around the world.
As part of the announcement, Apple reiterates its support for other open standards. The company, for instance, has worked closely with the likes of Amazon and Google on the Matter smart home standard. It’s also worked together with FIDO alliance, including Microsoft and Google, on expanding support for Passkey. Apple also played an integral role in developing the Qi2 wireless charging standard, which is built on top of MagSafe.
As of right now, there’s no word on whether the green bubbles will still be green. Is Apple right to finally cave to the pressure and adopt RCS, or should the company have held out longer?