Software

Google believes RCS could be Android's secret weapon in war against iMessage

Google is putting its Allo efforts on hold as it ramps on carrier partnerships around an RCS standard it calls 'Chat.'

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Google has effectively failed to develop a broadly adopted messaging app in the last decade, prompting yet another change in direction.
  • RCS requires carrier and handset implementation to work, though it can use SMS as a fallback, if needed.

Google is spearheading the adoption of the Rich Communication Services (RCS) as a replacement for SMS, and as a solution to the company's current difficulty competing against messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger, according to a report from The Verge.

RCS is not itself actually a Google service—implementation requires the cooperation of mobile network operators and device manufacturers—but rather than continuing with another standalone, proprietary messaging app, Google is putting its focus behind RCS, the report said.

The Verge noted that Anil Sabharwal—the former lead for the Google Photos app—was assigned to messaging six months ago, which explains in part the new direction the company is taking with messaging. RCS will be the target protocol of the default Messages app on Android, which The Verge quoted Sabharwal as saying: "At the end of the day ... the native SMS app is where users are."

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

In that feature, RCS is seemingly being branded as "Chat," though the actual name appears to depend on each carrier: in the United States, it is commonly known as "Advanced Messaging," while it is called "joyn" in South America, South Korea, and much of Europe, though the branding in Germany and certain other countries is "Message+," while in Japan, the order is reversed to "+Message."

In total, 55 carriers globally—including the four major US carriers—have signed on to implement RCS on their networks. Similarly, The Verge noted that 11 phone manufacturers have signed on to support the standard: Alcatel, ASUS, General Mobile, HTC, Laba, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Huawei, Intex, Samsung, and ZTE. (As an aside, the immediate future of ZTE is very much in doubt, following U.S. sanctions.) Microsoft has also pledged support for RCS in Windows, though there is no indication of support from Apple, as of yet.

At its core, RCS is a carrier-owned service, backward-compatible with SMS. While Google has done the work of "herding the carrier cats," as The Verge put it, it structurally does not serve as a replacement for proprietary chat apps. The protocol offers no encryption, and Google intends to bring integrations for Assistant, as well as Gmail-style Smart Replies, among others, to their implementation of the app, the report said.

That said, with this shift in direction, the team assigned to Allo—one of three messaging apps Google launched in 2016—has been reassigned to work on the Messages app in Android. As a result, new features are unlikely to come to that platform as the company's priorities in messaging change, once again. While the company states that Allo isn't being discontinued, no mention was made as to the fate of Duo, the second messaging app from 2016. (Google Spaces was discontinued after 11 months in April 2017, as the company ran out of room for messaging apps.)

Google has had a somewhat chaotic approach when it comes to messaging. Google Hangouts was launched in 2013 in an attempt to unify the disparate messaging services Google was already operating at the time, plus integrate SMS handling on Android phones. By January 2016, the company was advising users to stop using Hangouts for SMS. In 2017, Google announced that Hangouts was splitting into two business-centric apps, the videoconferencing Hangouts Meet, and the group collaboration tool / Slack workalike Hangouts Chat.

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Image: iStockphoto/ViewApart

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, in addition to security, cloud computing, open source, mobile and satellite communications, and the impact of globalization o...

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