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Apple caves, will bring RCS to iMessage in 2024

Looks like the old response of "Buy your mom an iPhone" won't be necessary anymore.
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Published onNovember 16, 2023

TL;DR
  • Apple announced today that it will support RCS in 2024.
  • This will bring encrypted chat support between iMessage and Google Messages.
  • It is likely Apple is doing this to avoid going to court over it in the EU.

For the past year, Google has run an ad campaign called #GetTheMessage. This campaign was an attempt to shame Apple into supporting rich communication services (RCS) in iMessage, Apple’s proprietary iPhone chat app. It looks like Google’s campaign may have worked.

Today, Apple issued a statement to 9to5Mac stating that it will support RCS in 2024:

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.

Supporting RCS will allow iMessage users to securely communicate with Android apps that include RCS, most notably Google Messages. With both platforms supporting the standard, iPhones and Android phones will finally be able to communicate properly, including read receipts, typing indicators, and transferring full-resolution images and videos. End-to-end encryption will also be possible.

This is an about-face for Apple, as it has been openly antagonistic in the past when it comes to RCS. Famously, Tim Cook responded to a person asking what they should do about their mom’s Android phone not accepting images and videos properly by saying, “Buy your mom an iPhone.”

According to the statement, RCS won’t change much for iMessage communication for iPhone users. In other words, an iPhone communicating with other iPhones won’t see any difference. But, when an Android user enters the chat, RCS support will kick in. When there is no RCS support for the Android phone, SMS/MMS will be the backup.

It is very likely Apple is making this announcement to get ahead of legal disputes with the European Union. The EU has been cracking down hard on anti-competitive practices by large tech companies, and Apple locking out Android users from secure messaging with iPhone users would eventually come up. Nonetheless, this is a surprising development, as we would have expected Apple to hold off until the last minute rather than preemptively offer support.

We’ll know more about this soon, as Apple will need to explain how RCS integration will work in more detailed terms.