Instead of continuing to wait for carriers worldwide to get together to support the global rollout of Rich Communication Services (RCS), Google is taking the next generation of Android messaging into its own hands. Starting later this month in the U.K. and France, Android users will be able to opt into Google’s own RCS Chat services. Eventually, this will be offered in more countries later this year, and with Google taking care of this directly; eventually, we could see RCS made available for all Android handsets.
The platform developed to replace short message service (SMS) on Android phones does away with the 160 character limit on texts and supports group messages. It also will show a user that a text he sent has been read (the so-called “read receipt”) and will show when someone who is part of a chat is in the middle of typing a message. The RCS platform also allows users to engage in a video chat without the necessity of installing a third party app like Duo and supports the sharing of large files.
What RCS doesn’t have that some other messaging apps do is end-to-end encryption. This is a key security and privacy feature offered on third-party titles available for Android like WhatsApp and Telegram. But Google is working on it and Sanaz Ahari, one of the Googlers in charge of Android’s Messages app says, “We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we’re fully committed to finding a solution for our users.” Ahari adds that the goal is “a great, simple user experience that just works for every Android user.”
Google, at least at first, will offer RCS to those Messages users who opt-in for the service when it is available in their market. When that happens, users will open the Android Messages app and will receive a prompt asking them if they’d like to sign up for RCS Chat, which is Google’s name for the SMS replacement. On new Android phones, Messages will remain the default messaging app and once the app is opened, users will be asked if they’d like to opt-in to RCS Chat. This is different than the way Apple automatically has iOS users opt-in to Messages. While Google will indeed offer RCS Chat to all Android users, they will still get to make their own choice whether to accept it.
In Apple’s Messages, if the user sees iMessage in the text field, he knows that he is conversing with another iOS user. If he sees text message in the same field, the conversation he is having is most likely with an Android user. Google will do something similar; if you see Chat on the app, it means that the person on the other end of the message also has RCS. And as we pointed out, RCS does not have end-to-end encryption; the messages are encrypted en route from the sender to recipient, but if your RCS provider is asked by law enforcement for a copy of your RCS based conversation, the information can be delivered to them. However, once a message is received by the recipient, it is removed from Google’s servers. Drew Rowny, the product lead for the Android Messages app says “From a data retention point of view, we delete the message from our RCS backend service the moment we deliver it to an end user. If we keep it, it’s just to deliver it when that person comes online.”
Android users should feel better about the timeline for receiving RCS now that Google is handling the rollout itself. This means that carriers’ approval is not needed. And the faster that RCS is rolled out, the quicker Android users can enjoy it.