On Friday, Google announced a push to bring Rich Communications Services (RCS) messaging to Android users around the world. RCS is a communication protocol used by wireless carriers, and it’s an upgrade to SMS — you know, the thing you probably call “texting.”
By bringing RCS messaging to Android phones, Google aims to upgrade the current SMS protocol, which is pretty limited. Things like stickers and iMessage effects only work because of proprietary platforms, and they’ll only work within specific apps (like WhatsApp or Snapchat) or specific hardware (like iPhones). RCS coming to Android means those kinds of abilities will become native to “texting” on the Android platform, regardless of device.
However, RCS doesn’t work without buy-in from the carriers, so Google is partnering with Sprint in the U.S., Rogers in Canada, Telenor in Europe and Asia, Globe in the Philippines and multinational companies Orange and Deutsche Telekom.
The company is also attempting to bring in brands to the RCS push. Currently, a lot of companies use texting for advertising, logistics updates and customer service. By offering brands like Walgreens and Virgin (pictured below) tools to use RCS, Google is attempting increase the influence of Android, similar to Facebook and Twitter’s customer service offerings for brands.
The plan has a big hurdle to overcome, though: Messaging on Android — and Android itself — has always been a fragmented experience. Users with different phones can have vastly different experiences on Android, a stark contrast to Apple’s consistent experience. Depending on what kind of phone you have, you may be using any one of Hangouts, Allo, Google’s Messenger or apps from Samsung, HTC and more for texting. To help address this, Google is changing the name of the default SMS/RCS messaging app on Android from Messenger to Android Messages (this has the added bonus of avoiding confusion with Facebook Messenger).
With the change, Android Messages becomes the default messaging app on phones from most official Android manufacturers — hardware makers like LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC and more. While this is an extensive list that covers a large chunk of Android phones, Samsung, and of course Apple are missing. The changes will come to future versions of Android, but the company has not given a definitive timeline or whether earlier Android versions might get the upgrade.
While Google itself has Allo, and many other companies like Facebook and Apple offer richer texting experiences, streamlining the messaging experience could go a long way making Android the unified experience Google wants it to be.