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Google is upgrading Android text messages—no thanks to mobile carriers

Google is upgrading Android text messages—no thanks to mobile carriers
[Photos: Rohit Tandon/Unsplash; Qim Manifester/Unsplash]

Google is pushing ahead with plans to upgrade Android text messaging in the United States. By the end of this year, the company expects to broadly roll out RCS Chat through its Android Messages app. Users who opt into Chat will get high-resolution images, read receipts, larger group chats, and the ability to add or remove people from groups. Think of it like Apple’s iMessage, but for Android-to-Android texting.

Great as RCS may sound, this probably isn’t the way Google wanted things to go. When the company announced RCS in 2018, the plan was to work with wireless carriers on broad adoption. Carriers, however, don’t seem eager to let Google spearhead an overhaul to SMS texting, and so they’ve hatched their own RCS adoption scheme, called the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative. While Google says it still looks forward to working with carriers, it’s unclear how or when these efforts will ultimately tie together, so Google has now taken to pushing RCS Chat on its own. The carrier-independent rollout in the United States follows similar efforts in the United Kingdom, France, and Mexico earlier this year.

Going it alone has some downsides. Google’s implementation only works with its own Messages app, which is not always what ships by default on Android phones. (Samsung, for instance, has its own text messaging app, so users would have to replace it with Google’s version if they wanted to use RCS.) And without support from Apple, texting between iOS and Android users will remain stuck in the past. Apple may not want to back a new standard that doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption, but it also may want to protect iMessage as a major selling point for its ecosystem.

All of which means that while Android users may soon have a better way to text among themselves, the broader push to overhaul SMS texting is far from over.

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