iMessage is pretty great, there’s no denying that, but adding RCS support to the app would make a better user experience for everyone – iPhone users and Android users alike. While Apple seems unlikely to ever add support willingly, if Apple has the courage to put user experience just a bit ahead of monetary decisions, RCS would be the first step.
iMessage should implement RCS [Video]
SMS and MMS: The past of texting
The SMS and MMS standards are what most of us know as “texting.” SMS is short message service, while MMS is multimedia message service. SMS supports messages up to 160 characters. MMS builds on top of that with support for photos, videos, and audio messages – but the maximum file sizes are extremely limited. Up to 40 seconds of video are supported, but carriers’ maximum supported size for these files is about 1MB. Therefore, files sent over MMS are heavily compressed. This may result in photos that look okay, but that’s just not enough data to send good-looking videos.
SMS and MMS messages also lack things like guaranteed delivery, so these texts can be left undelivered.
iMessage’s key features
Ask anyone who uses iMessage and they will probably say that they love it. Even though there are still a few features on our iMessage wish list, Apple does a lot of things right with its messaging service. iMessage’s end-to-end encryption helps keep messages more secure, while the service’s utilization of the internet allows much larger files to be sent – up to 100MB per message. That’s why videos sent between iPhones look so much better than videos sent between an iPhone and an Android phone.
When an iPhone sends a message to an Android device – or vice versa – iMessage reverts back to the older SMS and MMS standards, with all the flaws and limitations that come along with those. And just to make sure you know that you’re talking with someone who hasn’t paid Apple hundreds of dollars, any messages sent that way show up as the dreaded green bubble, rather than the blue that is granted to other iPhone users. iMessage won’t come to Android, but many of the features that make iMessage special also exist on the default messenger for many Android phones thanks to RCS.
RCS: A more open alternative
RCS is basically a new standard to work alongside MMS and SMS. It has many of the same features that iMessage added but in a more open standard that can be implemented by other phone makers. The first phones to support RCS were launched by Samsung back in 2012, but the last few years have seen an explosion of support. Google Messages has supported RCS for four years, and Google Messages is the default messaging app on Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and numerous other smartphones – including every AT&T Android phone.
RCS has the same support for read receipts, high-quality video and photo sharing, larger group messages, video calls, and end-to-end encryption thanks to its ability to send messages over the internet. But RCS isn’t perfect. If carriers want to implement their own version of RCS, it can be time-intensive and costly, but Google’s Jibe backend is available to anyone regardless of carrier. It also took some time for Google Messages to support end-to-end encryption after RCS was added to the app. Some implementations (such as AT&T’s initial implementation) that don’t fully tap into the RCS universal profile correctly have also led to compatibility issues.
Why would Apple want RCS?
It’s hard to see why Apple – from a financial standpoint – would want to add RCS support to iMessage. As it is, iMessage and Facetime serve as tools that help lock customer groups into the ecosystem. The blue vs green bubbles are a surprisingly big deal to some people. Some of this lock-in strategy was talked about during the Epic v. Apple lawsuit, as Apple software chief Craig Federighi said that “iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones.” Adding RCS support would similarly act to erode that obstacle to Android phone adoption in a family of iPhone users. It simply makes no financial sense for Apple to implement RCS, cause it could hurt iPhone sales. But adding RCS support would make the user experience better for iPhone and Android users alike.
If an iPhone user is communicating with another iPhone user, let the messages send as iMessage like before. But if Apple adds RCS support, even a very basic implementation, messages that would otherwise have to send as MMS or SMS messages to Android devices could send as better RCS messages.
iMessage is still ahead
Just because RCS would bring higher quality photos and more secure messaging to the iPhone doesn’t mean that iMessage has no advantages. Things like Apple Pay and iMessage apps would still be exclusively available to iPhone-only messages. That, and the ability to send texts from your laptop, iPad, or iPhone is still a great reason for people to choose the Apple ecosystem. Apple shouldn’t avoid adopting an industry standard, making the texting experience worse for its customers, in order to keep as many people as possible locked into the iPhone. Instead, it should continue innovating with new and impressive features and devices to keep existing customers and gain new ones.
What do you think? If you have an iPhone, do you hope Apple adds RCS support? Let me know in the comments down below.
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