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RCS in iMessage solves everything... and nothing
In case you haven’t heard, RCS is finally coming to iMessage in 2024. Maybe Apple finally #GotTheMessage, or perhaps it’s trying to avoid another court case in Europe, but either way, RCS is coming.
At first glance, the new standard is an exciting change that will make messaging between Android and iOS easier. However, this is only one step in bridging the gap between the two platforms. It’ll fix a few of the basics, but it doesn’t open the door to iMessage any wider. RCS will solve everything but also almost nothing.
A (kind of) giant leap for Android…
First, let’s break down what bringing RCS to iMessage really means. It’s not a case of Apple adopting Google Messages as its own, nor is it relying on the same encryption that Google uses. Once again, Apple isn’t opening the gates to iMessage, either. Instead, it’s adopting the RCS Universal Profile from the GSM Association as an upgrade over SMS and MMS messaging. Yes, it relies on data (either Wi-Fi or cellular), but it still defaults to SMS and MMS when RCS isn’t available. On a more practical level, RCS will usher in features of modern messaging like typing indicators, read receipts, and improved message reactions — things that both sides already had but weren’t sharing with each other.
However, the real benefit of Apple adopting RCS is the ability to send high-resolution photos and videos back and forth. Right now, videos going either direction often look like the Patterson-Gimlin footage, while sending pictures is a painfully slow process. With RCS, however, large files will head from the sender to the cloud, where they’ll be turned into a randomized URL that the receiver can download. It sounds complicated, but it is much more accessible for both sides.
RCS on iMessage is great — but only when it comes to the basics.
Bringing RCS to iMessage will also give group messages a boost. Yes, you’ll probably still show up as a green bubble and break the blue bubble unity, but the group message will transfer over data using RCS rather than defaulting to the older, slower MMS standard. It’ll carry over all of the benefits listed above but share them between the group rather than one on one.
Ultimately, though, no matter how you cut it, bringing RCS to iMessage is a big deal because it’s an about-face from Apple. It shows that the company can make decisions that benefit Android users (like adopting USB-C and eliminating the need for Lightning cables), it just needs the right type of push — probably from the EU.
A small, small step toward messaging equality
Unfortunately, adopting RCS is only one piece of the larger Apple messaging pie. The new standard won’t make inter-platform messaging any closer to universal iMessage, nor will it eliminate the perception of iPhones as “better” among young people. The Apple logo emblazoned across the back of an iPhone will continue to dominate perception. Green bubbles will still plague group messages once an Android user hops in, so Galaxy and Pixel fans will keep getting excluded. Sorry, folks, but green bubble bullying isn’t going anywhere.
Sure, your messages will probably send quicker, and your large files will look better, but they’ll still flash across iPhone screens the same way. On top of that, Apple will still hoard a ton of features that Android users just won’t get access to. iMessage will feel like an exclusive club, and Android users will feel left out. Your Pixel won’t pick up a FaceTime call, you won’t be able to stream shows simultaneously with SharePlay, and you won’t get silly little extras like playing Battleship in GamePigeon. RCS is just going to cover the basics, and Google Messages will still have features of its own, too.
iMessage will still be iMessage, loaded with features that Android users won't get.
Honestly, users outside the US probably won’t even notice RCS when it does arrive. It’s easy, as an American, to forget that iMessage isn’t universal and that many people rely on Telegram or WhatsApp instead, and those platforms won’t benefit from Apple’s change in any way. RCS won’t change the fact that several apps are better optimized on iOS either, like recording images or videos on Snapchat or Instagram — it’s just a small step towards progress.
Let’s face it — Apple is probably only welcoming RCS on iMessage because it’s being pushed to do so. It’s making the change at a bare minimum level to cover its own behind, not to make Android users happier. Apple could open up iMessage if it wanted to and eliminate green bubbles altogether, but it relishes in its premium perception and will continue to do so for as long as possible. Oh, and Nothing’s new partnership with Sunbird has nothing to do with Apple’s decision, no matter what Carl Pei posts — unless he’s secretly an EU regulator.
What do you think — will Apple bringing RCS to iMessage change much? Or will messaging between Android and iOS mostly feel like it always has? Let us know in the poll below.