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Millions of iPhone users have already been using RCS, they just don't know it

If you live in Japan and use +Message for iOS, you’ve already been texting over RCS.
By

Published onJune 5, 2024

Apple iPhone 15 Plus 3
Aamir Siddiqui / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • Millions of Japanese iPhone users have been sending text messages over RCS for years now.
  • This is thanks to the downloadable +Message app created by three major Japanese carriers.
  • Apple is set to add RCS support to their Messages app later this year, bringing RCS to millions of iOS users outside of Japan.

Among certain demographics, there’s a shocking stigma associated with anyone who texts from an Android phone. This is because text messages between Android phones and iPhones are sent via SMS messaging, which is not only insecure but also lacks many features that many iPhone users are accustomed to. To combat the green bubble stigma, Google has been pushing Apple to “get the message,” i.e., add support for RCS messaging, which it is finally doing later this year. While the vast majority of iPhone users will get their first taste of RCS messaging with the upcoming iOS 18 update, millions have already been (unknowingly) enjoying its capabilities.

RCS stands for Rich Communication Services, and many in the telecommunications industry consider it the successor to SMS/MMS. It’s an advanced messaging protocol that extends character limits, supports higher-quality media sharing, enables group messaging, and allows for read receipts to be shown, among other features. These are considered basic features for any modern messaging service, which explains why some iPhone users abhor texting Android users via SMS.

Because RCS is a protocol and not an app, though, there isn’t a single client or server that handles every single message sent between devices. Individual carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon had to build out their own RCS-compatible servers and their own proprietary RCS messaging apps, but these apps were never made available to iOS users. Although these three carriers have all agreed to switch to Google’s Jibe server for RCS messaging, they still haven’t made their apps available on iOS, meaning only Android users can text other Android users via RCS. That’s not the case in Japan, though.

Back in May 2018, three of the largest Japanese carriers, KDDI, NTT DOCOMO, and SoftBank, launched the +Message app. +Message is a messaging app that’s preloaded on many Android smartphones sold in Japan, but is also available on iPhones through the Apple App Store. According to the GSMA, the industry body that defines the RCS standard, the +Message app is built on the GSMA’s RCS standards, “enabling a feature-rich, secure alternative to SMS for person-to-person communications.”

The app supports many of the standard features enabled by RCS, such as read receipts, higher quality media sharing, file sharing, group messaging, and much higher character limits. It also, according to the GSMA, supports RCS Business Messaging (RBM), allowing Japanese consumers to “communicate directly with a range of brands and services, for example allowing them to engage with virtual assistants to book flights, buy goods and make restaurant reservations.”

+Message vs SMS via au
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority

Although Line is the most popular messaging app in Japan, +Message appears to be quite popular, too. The GSMA, citing market research firm Mobilesquared, forecasted that the number of active +Message users would rise to 17.5 million by the end of 2020. In its Q2 2022 earnings call, Synchronoss Technologies, the company that handles the +Message backend, said that the app is available on “well over 25 million” devices in Japan. It’s not clear exactly how many of those 25 million devices are running iOS, but given that Apple is reported by the IDC to have a ~52% market share in the country, it’s likely that several million iPhone users in Japan have sent or received an RCS message at least once.

Apple will bring RCS to its Messages app later this year, giving iPhone users outside of Japan the opportunity to text Android users via RCS. iPhone users outside of Japan can technically already chat with their Android friends through RCS thanks to Beeper, but the app requires them to already own an Android phone, so it’s not the same as using a native client.

Android users in Japan, meanwhile, may soon be able to ditch the +Message app for Google Messages, as Google announced late last month that it’s “working with KDDI and other partners to bring an updated messaging experience to Japan with RCS in Google Messages.” It’s likely that Google has struck a deal with the three Japanese carriers behind +Message to migrate Android users over to Google Messages, which will soon support texting iPhone users over RCS once Apple implements support for it in iOS 18.

Thanks to Discord user LaNonymous for the tip!

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