Published on November 17, 2023, 6:14 am

Apple Plans to Add Support for RCS Standard on iOS in Major Reversal

In a surprising announcement, Apple revealed its plans to incorporate support for the RCS standard on iOS devices starting next year. This move by the iPhone-maker marks a significant departure from its longstanding stance on compatibility issues between iPhones and Android smartphones. However, while this new development aims to resolve the problem of compatibility, it will not eliminate what is colloquially referred to as the “green bubble” dread.

Critics have long argued that Apple’s refusal to support RCS perpetuated fragmentation in messaging ecosystems, particularly affecting Android users. The company’s stance was seen by many as an attempt to maintain exclusivity within its ecosystem. Consequently, this sparked debate within the tech community regarding interoperability and user convenience.

Apple’s sudden change of heart signifies that it now shares Google’s conviction that the “RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS.” The company plans to roll out RCS support alongside iMessage, which it claims will continue to provide Apple users with the best and most secure messaging experience.

Despite this major reversal, messages sent through RCS on iPhones will still be displayed in green bubbles. Hiroshi Lockheimer, Senior Vice President at Google, took note of this development and highlighted that his request for Apple to adopt RCS was not about bringing iMessage to Android but rather about supporting the industry-standard for modern messaging.

Rich Communication Services (RCS) has emerged as a collaborative effort among various industry players aimed at enhancing traditional SMS capabilities with features such as richer texts and end-to-end encryption. Over recent years, Google, Samsung, telecom operators, and other firms have introduced RCS support to more than 800 million users worldwide.

Critics argue that historically, the lack of compatibility between group chats and interactions among Android and iPhone users has discouraged many from transitioning to Android smartphones. It appears that this lack of compatibility was deliberate, as internal discussions revealed Apple’s conscious decision to keep iMessage within its ecosystem – a strategy that became evident during their legal battle with Epic Games.

Internal Apple documents exposed a prolonged debate regarding the potential introduction of iMessage to Android devices. Concerns were raised about this move, with executives arguing that such a transition could lead to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones. They emphasized the significant user retention and described iMessage as a “serious lock-in.”

Coincidentally, Apple’s decision comes shortly after Google and several telecom operators urged EU regulators to categorize iMessage as a “core” service under the new Digital Markets Act. This would require Apple to make its chat app fully compatible with competitors. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Apple has acknowledged in a filing its willingness to make several policy changes next year to comply with these new guidelines.

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