Apple has just announced it is going to support rich communication services in its Messages. If that sounds dull, read on for why it isn’t. Here’s what it means and what will change when—including what will happen to those green or blue message bubbles.
November 19 update below. This post was first published on November 18, 2023.
Android uses RCS, Apple doesn’t. Google and Samsung have exhorted Apple to join the RCS party. RCS is the advanced messaging system used on Android phones that makes up for all the things that SMS can’t do. For instance, SMS works over the cellular network only, but RCS, like Apple’s iMessage, works over wifi as well.
RCS supports higher-resolution media, audio messages, and bigger file sizes, compared to SMS and MMS. It’s also better in terms of working between different platforms.
The Benefits Of iMessage
Apple has long resisted calls to introduce RCS, with CEO Tim Cook saying he didn’t see much call for it from users and suggesting to a reporter to instead, “Buy your mom an iPhone.”
And it means that there’s a two-tier presence in Messages on iPhone. If you’re sending a text between iPhones, the message appears on a blue background. But if your conversation includes someone on an Android phone, their messages pop up in green.
This color change became emblematic of the other differences, such as the highly useful typing indicator, where three dots animate on a grey background to tell you in real time that the other person is typing the next message. Ooh, the anticipation!
There are other benefits, such as briefly being able to undo send messages or edit them after they are sent between Apple devices. Many of these features are available on Android phones thanks to RCS, but can’t get across the abyss between the two different platforms.
So, Now The Two Will Work As One?
Not quite. Here’s the statement Apple gave to TechRadar and 9to5Mac: “Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe the 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.”
For me, the phrase that really jumps out is “This will work alongside iMessage,” confirming that the two are far from being merged. I believe Apple is allowing some RCS features to be managed by iMessage, rather than any full-scale combination. This is still welcome, of course, but leaves one major question: what colors with the message bubbles be?
The Color Of Bubbles
Will Android messages now show up in the lovely blue color Apple uses for its own messages?
According to Chance Miller at 9to5Mac, “I now have an official answer: nope. RCS will use green bubbles just like SMS.”
When Will It Change?
Apple says “later next year”. I’d take it that it will arrive with iOS 18 in the fall of 2024.
November 19 update. More details are emerging about what’s happening with Apple, iMessage and RCS support. Techradar has said that we should expect the support for RCS to come “early next year,” and claimed, “green bubble shame set to end,” though I think those things are not quite right.
My understanding is we should expect it later in the year, and that green bubbles for Android messages will stay, as discussed above.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in his latest Power On newsletter, suggests a much later timeframe. As you can see above, I figure the launch of iOS 18 in the fall seems most likely and Gurman says, I’d say that means it’s coming either in iOS 18 or a more incremental update to the operating system between October and December 2024.” Basically, it could be more than a year away.
Gurman also has a clear opinion about why it’s happening, at least in part. “Regulatory scrutiny probably has a lot to do with the reversal. Apple is about to implement major changes to appease the European Union, and it certainly doesn’t want iMessage to become a new front in its fight with governments.”
He also says that texting between Android and Apple is not the best experience, “complete with grainy images and the ever-present risk of messages never arriving.” Personally, I’ve never had the missing message issue. But Gurman points out that issues are “more about the limitations of the older SMS system,” but adds that users probably don’t know that and blame Apple. Well, he doesn’t say this but I imagine people would likely blame Android, too. Either way, an improvement in service is clearly going to be welcome.
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