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Apple Should Adopt the RCS Texting Standard
Apple is resisting RCS despite inefficient cross-platform functionality.
There’s an ongoing battle over who controls your smartphone’s text messages.
At the center of the fight is RCS—or Rich Communication Services, a protocol that replaces SMS and is more feature-rich than its predecessor. Google is a big proponent of RCS and has adopted the protocol in their Messages app on Andriod. Carriers have signed on too. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have all backed RCS.
But Apple is the big holdout, resisting RCS to focus on its own iMessage service, which is only available for iPhone users. While iMessage works great for iPhone-to-iPhone users, the service doesn’t play well with Android devices. This is because Apple defaults to SMS when users message non-iPhone devices, which also turns the iPhone’s chat bubbles green. The color change signals that the person you’re messaging is not on iMessage and that certain features, like high resolution photos and videos, will not work.
Under the hood, RCS acts a lot like Apple’s iMessage. The protocol “adds or improves support for sharing large-resolution images and video, group chatting, read receipts, video calls, and messages that actually go beyond 160 characters,” according to Wired. And as of 2021, RCS offers end-to-end encryption.
So why is Apple resisting calls to adopt RCS as it’s messaging standard?
Apple executives Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller have said adopting a universal messaging standard on iPhones would not be beneficial to the company. An internal email revealed during the Epic Games v. Apple trial shows that Federighi went so far as to say “I think we need to get Android customers using and dependent on Apple products.”
Obviously Apple is looking out for their own interests here. Their iMessage strategy is to lock in iPhone users and to persuade non-iPhone users to move to Apple’s ecosystem. As they said, to make people “depended on Apple products.”
Apple’s RCS holdout goes to the top of the organization. During the 2022 Code Conference, an audience member told Apple CEO Tim Cook that it was difficult for him to send videos to his mom because she had an Android device. Cook’s response was that the attendee should buy his mom an iPhone to improve the experience. Cook went on to say, “I don’t hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy in on that at this point.”
Meanwhile, Google is twisting Apple’s arm. The search giant wants better messaging compatibility with its Android smartphone software. A win for Google would mean improvements with its messaging app between Android and iPhone devices.
In protest of Apple’s decision not to adopt RCS, Google launched a website in 2022 with the intent of pushing Apple to move to the RCS standard.
“Apple downgrades texts between iPhones and Android phones into SMS and MMS, outdated tech from the 90s and 00s,” notes Google. “But Apple can adopt RCS–the modern industry standard–for those texts instead.”
Google also notes that “iPhone users get a bad texting experience.” This is true for any iPhone user messaging anyone not in Apple’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, Apple is putting greed above user experience, as the company tries to “lock in” as many users as possible, even if that means less interoperability between Apple’s devices and non-Apple devices.
But it shouldn’t be this way. A universal standard for text messaging would improve the experience for both Android and iPhone users. Apple should phase out SMS and adopt RCS into its popular iMessage service. Though I’m not holding my breath. Apple is stubborn and the company’s executives are unlikely to change their points of view.
“At this point, Apple adopting RCS feels about as likely as the US collectively ditching iMessage and moving to an encrypted cross-platform messaging service like WhatsApp or Signal,” writes Jon Porter for The Verge.