Starting next year, Verizon will join with AT&T and T-Mobile to preload Android Messages as the default text app for all Android phones it sells. It’s the final step in making RCS Chat – the next-generation standard designed to replace text messaging – the default experience for Android. In the U.S., this leaves only one large cohort that does not use RCS as the default text replacement: iPhone users.
Verizon has also said it fully supports interoperability between carriers, so in theory, enhanced images, videos, read receipts, and group chats should only work – assuming all text messages also use Android Messages.
Verizon was the last of the largest U.S. operators to get on board with Google’s latest strategy to push RCS as the new default for text messaging. After years of bullying, shameful and outright appeal, the company has entered into agreements with operators to simply use the standard Android Messages app, which supports RCS by default.
Hiroshi Lockheimer, vice president of Android, Chrome OS, and the Play Store, quickly realizes that end-to-end encryption of RCS in Android Messages is also underway. It is available for peer-to-peer calls (i.e., a conversation with one other person), but group discussions are also on the roadmap.
The default, end-to-end encrypted conversations between Android phones pose an interesting problem for Apple. Next year, texts between Android phones and iPhones will be less secure than texts within these two ecosystems – because they’re in a text message instead of RCS.
Apple’s Messaging app provides end-to-end encryption if all users are on iMessage, and it hasn’t shown a desire to either offer iMessage on Android or deploy RCS on iPhone. Meanwhile, Google is happy to take the opportunity to pinpoint Apple by openly inviting it to use RCS.
“In the future, Android’s default messaging experience will be more secure,” says Lockheimer, who has previously called on Apple to deploy RCS. security and privacy, it will be an important part of the debate. “
Lockheimer does not confirm if Google is in active discussions with Apple, but it does not appear that RCS is likely to come to the iPhone soon and the company has refused to comment on the matter several times over the years. But the pressure campaign is clearly going on, although it is not very self-evident. Speaking about Apple’s rollout, Lockheimer says, “I actually believe that getting the three largest operators in the United States to roll out RCS in a consistent way is a big part of the equation.”
There are currently 473 million active RCS users worldwide per month, According to the GSMA. Adoption in the United States is likely to increase this number quite a bit. Google has no plans to implement a messaging app that supports RCS on the iPhone.
Although RCS has been closely associated with Google, the company often suggests that it is intended to be a standard shared by the entire mobile industry and managed by the GSMA. Carriers can use their own RCS infrastructure instead of Google. Yet RCS is closely tied to Google in the minds of many, and Google provides RCS services to operators and even allows consumers to access RCS directly through its services if not provided by their operator. Google began pushing RCS as a new text messaging experience on Android after its own communications companies (especially Hangouts and Allo) stormed.
Lockheimer argues that Google wants a slightly more open RCS approach to Google’s proprietary SMS solution, which is Android’s default. “We don’t think there should be one messaging app that controls them all. We fully understand that people use multiple messaging apps,” he says.
For Verizon, it will continue to offer its Verizon Message + (VM +) app with Android Messages to customers who want to use it. It’s the wrong app, and for good reason: it’s packed with awkward UI drivers and the Verizon brand – but because it’s really the only way to sync Verizon text messages between different devices, it stays stuck.
Apparently, Verizon and Google are going to find a way to make sure VM + and Android Messages share a text message database so that messages stay in sync. It is possibly the first step towards opening up RCS to third-party applications – which has been impossible so far.
Unfortunately, as with all Android and RCS cases, users will not know the results of that activity until later. Verizon will not transition to Android Messages until 2022.