In an unexpected move Thursday, Apple announced it will adopt the rich communication services (RCS) standard for text messaging. iPhones are expected to receive support for RCS sometime in 2024 via an iOS update that will bring some iMessage-exclusive messaging features to Android-inclusive conversations.
Apple’s surprising change in tack comes via a statement shared with 9to5Mac. “Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association,” an Apple spokesperson said. “We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”
Apple has been under pressure to adopt RCS for quite some time now. In 2022, Android launched a campaign urging Apple to “fix texting” by bringing RCS to iPhone-to-Android conversations, which have historically lacked end-to-end encryption. A month later, Apple CEO Tim Cook cheekily told Android users that the real solution was to buy an iPhone, not to bridge the two technologies. This hasn’t stopped Google, Android’s parent company, from swiping at Apple for using the decades-old short messaging service (SMS) and multimedia messaging service (MMS) standards instead of stepping confidently into the future.
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But more recently, Google’s fight has morphed from petty to serious. Earlier this month, the company joined telecommunication providers in asking European Commission regulators to force Apple’s RCS adoption. If this wasn’t Apple’s final straw, the Nothing Phone 2’s new mock iMessage capabilities might have been.
To be clear, iMessage will remain the same for iPhone-to-iPhone conversations. RCS adoption will only affect conversations between an iPhone and one or more Android phones. While these conversations have typically relied on SMS and MMS, RCS will take their place when available; SMS and MMS will simply become backup options.
RCS iPhone-to-Android conversations will enable a handful of long-awaited features, including location-sharing, read receipts, typing indicators, and higher-quality media sharing. RCS messages will be conveyed via Wi-Fi and mobile data, not just basic cellular service. While RCS will offer more secure encryption than SMS and MMS, Apple says its level of encryption still isn’t as secure as the end-to-end encryption used within iMessage.
And for those who care a lot about the color of their text message bubbles: There’s no telling yet whether RCS messages will remain green.