There’s certainly nothing ‘new’ in Google’s arguments; we all understood the situation, but we’d accepted iMessage’s exclusivity and stopped questioning it every day. This new public outcry, though, succeeded in putting one more time the spotlight on Apple’s tactic and the anti-social behaviors it’s implicitly encouraging among US teenagers. It’s also the first time Google has been clear about what it’d like to see from Apple: RCS.
The problem, though, is that RCS is an older protocol that does nothing to solve any of Google’s problems with messaging.
RCS: Yay or nay?
Why wouldn’t Google want RCS? The protocol works with your phone number, is supported natively by (many) carriers, doesn’t require you to download or sign up for a specific app or service (technically), and offers several modern chatting features. Typing indicators, delivery and read receipts, rich media and location sharing, group chats, and optional end-to-end encryption are all part of its feature set. And when you don’t have a data connection or the other person doesn’t have RCS, it falls back to SMS.
In a word, RCS is like SMS, but better. Except that it isn’t. Not every operator has enabled it yet. Not all phones support it. Not every implementation is the same — especially in terms of encryption since that bit is optional. And even if you download Google Messages and use the now-supposedly worldwide ‘Chat features’ there, you’re still at the mercy of Google’s servers which can go down or become buggy any time. Which they have done rather frequently.
Check out: How to enable RCS messaging on your phone
RCS is also completely reliant on your phone number being active when you send or receive messages. This makes it intricately linked to your carrier bill (h/t Ron Amadeo for bringing this into the discussion). If you happen to miss a payment or have an issue with your carrier, or if you live in a country where number portability is difficult or inexistent, your line goes down and so does your ability to use SMS and RCS. This is unlike IP-based chat services where you can connect back at any point in the future, get all of your pending messages, and continue where you left off.
RCS is too late to the chat game
The fascination with SMS is, undeniably, US-centric at this point. The rest of the world has completely embraced IP-based messengers, like WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Signal, WeChat, and QQ. The shift didn’t happen overnight, it’s been more than a decade in the making and at this point, if you live outside the US, odds are everyone you know is using one of these apps.
These IP-based apps have made communication easy and as universal as possible. They’re cross-platform from Android to iOS (and sometimes Windows, Linux, Mac, and web) and get updated across the world without the need for an operator. Some of them use a phone number to identify you (yes, just like SMS and RCS) but allow portability across numbers; some prefer to rely on a username or email to be more open to anyone. Many of these apps offer end-to-end encryption in all chats — including groups. Many have added voice and video calls, to give you more…