[Update: Rolling out] Google will let Android users in the UK and France use RCS regardless of carrier support
For quite a while now, RCS has been talked about as the long-awaited replacement for SMS. It has many of the modern features we’ve come to expect from messaging services. Many have even looked at RCS as the “iMessage for Android” savior. However, there’s one very big problem: RCS support relies on carriers and phone makers and the rollout has been painfully slow.
Google is doing something about this. They’ve been on board with RCS since the beginning. They basically ditched all their other messaging apps to go all in on Messages and the “Chat” service. Starting later this month, Google is taking the situation into their own hands. Android users in the UK and France will be able to opt-in to RCS Chat directly from Google. No more waiting for carriers to roll it out.
How will it work?
Once this has been released, users will see a pop-up in the Android Messages app that will allow them to opt-in. For now, this is different from how iMessage works. Apple automatically opts users in, which means the pool of users is very large. Google will require users to make the choice to opt-in. However, RCS Chat will eventually be the default for every Android user, though that is not the plan right now.
Another thing to note is you’ll still need the person on the other end of the conversation to have RCS in order to enjoy the benefits. You will know if the recipient has enabled RCS services if you see “Chat” in the Messages text field.
How can Google do this?
People will naturally want to know how Google can do this and why it has taken them so long to do it. First, a little crash course on the difference between RCS and iMessage. Since iMessage is an Apple service, they keep a database of everyone that uses the service. When someone sends an iMessage, Apple checks this database to see if the recipient also has iMessage. Since RCS is not owned by a single company (which is important), it can’t do this.
When you open a conversation with the Android Messages app it will send an “invisible” message that asks if the user has RCS support. The app will silently respond “Yes” if it does, allowing the RCS features to be used. The users have no idea any of this happens. This method is what allows Google to implement RCS without the carriers. The Android Messages app can simply tell other Android Messages apps to use RCS instead of SMS.
What will I get with RCS?
So what exactly will you get with RCS Chat? Simply put, it makes SMS feel more like a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. You can see when others have read your messages, see when the other person is typic, send full-resolution images and videos, better group texting, and more.
End-to-end encryption is a big deal in messaging these days. iMessage, WhatsApp, and some other popular messaging apps have it built-in. RCS does not offer end-to-end encryption right now. Currently, the messages are encrypted in transit, but your provider can still see the contents after they’re sent. Google is working on a solution and they say none of the messages are stored on their servers. Files within the message may be kept for a longer period of time.
When will I get RCS on my phone?
As mentioned, Google is starting in the UK and France. They plan to release the services to more countries “throughout the year,” but they did not give any more details. If your carrier already offers RCS, Google’s solution won’t get in the way. Some carriers and phone makers in the US have already rolled out support for RCS. We’re glad to see Google finally stepping up and doing something about this slow roll out.
Source: The Verge
Update: Rolling out
People on Reddit have started to see the prompt show up in the Android Messages app to enable RCS. Carriers include BT Mobile, Vodafone, Orange, EE, Tesco, and Three. Some people have had luck with updating Play Services and uninstalling/reinstalling Android Messages.