The war of messaging applications begins again. While WhatsApp has lost its luster and services like Signal and Telegram are on the rise, it is to another internet giant that we owe the latest attack. Using a newly published website, Google is publicly trying to pressure Apple to drop the standard for its iMessage service.
Public pressure as a weapon
With a lot of technical arguments, screenshots of frustrated internet users and hashtags, Google wants to pressure Apple to adopt the RCS discussion standard instead of the proprietary protocol on which iMessage is based. Apple’s chat platform is only fully compatible with iPhones, iPads and Macs. As a result, if an iPhone owner starts a group chat with people on Android, messages from those phones will appear green (instead of blue) in the iMessage app. The phenomenon is sufficiently entrenched in popular culture that rapper Drake dedicated a song to this dire disparity in treatment.
The incompatibility of iMessage with Android mobiles causes many other problems. Abusive compression of images, reduced readability of white text on a green background, sending sometimes interrupted messages… In short, according to Google, “the bad experience you’re having when texting Android users is Apple’s fault. But the company can remedy this by switching to the RCS standard.“Google has been trying for months, even years, to pressure the Apple company to adopt a messaging standard that puts interoperability first. And that standard is none other than RCS.
Acronym of Rich Communication Services, the RCS will replace the good old SMS. By allowing text messages to be sent over the web, and no longer just through the operators’ phone network, RCS offers advanced features such as sending photos and videos in original quality, the timed seizure indicator and adding reactions to messages. The switch from SMS to RCS is also almost invisible, since the application that allows sending SMS on Android also supports the RCS protocol, and even defaults to this channel when possible.
RCS is not flawless
In summary, most features in iMessage have their RCS counterparts. It is for this reason that Google is pushing Internet users to demand that Apple adopt this standard. This fight has been going on for years and frequent twists and turns fuel this standard war. Google had started promoting RCS in earnest around 2019; in 2021 we learned that Apple didn’t want to offer iMessage on Android because the company had too much to lose; and in 2022 a study of The Wall Street Journal took stock of these technical incompatibilities.
If Google is probably right to promote a truly interoperable discussion standard, the company is still showing some bad faith. First, RCS is not that “modern” because it was developed in 2018. Second, Google’s specific RCS implementation contains proprietary code (especially for message encryption), and the company jealously guards its API (the programming interface that allows use RCS on Android). Only Samsung phones are fully compatible with Google’s service. Finally, one of the largest RCS message handling operators was bought by Google in 2015. This means that if Apple were to use RCS, messages from all iPhones would pass (encrypted) on Google’s servers.