Apple announces that RCS support is coming to iPhone next year


Apple has made a surprising announcement today, revealing its decision to adopt the RCS (Rich Communication Services) messaging standard. Through a software update set to launch "later next year," this move will introduce a range of iMessage-style features to messaging between iPhone and Android users.

This decision by Apple comes amidst mounting pressure from regulators and competitors such as Google and Samsung. It also coincides with the continued development and maturation of RCS as a messaging platform.

RCS brings several iMessage-style features to cross-platform messaging between iPhone and Android devices. Users can expect to read receipts, typing indicators, high-quality images and videos, and more.

Additionally, Apple's implementation of RCS will enable users to share their location with others within text threads. Unlike standard SMS, RCS can function over mobile data or Wi-Fi networks.

It is important to note that iMessage will not disappear. It will remain the primary messaging platform for all communication among iPhone users. RCS will merely replace SMS and MMS while existing independently from iMessage. SMS and MMS will also continue to be available as fallback options when necessary, according to Apple.

Apple's decision should not be misconstrued as an opening of iMessage to other platforms. Rather, the company is adopting RCS as a separate initiative from iMessage.

Apple is quick to reassert that iMessage maintains a higher level of security and privacy compared to RCS. iMessage boasts end-to-end encryption, with the introduction of Advanced Data Protection for Messages in iCloud taking security to the next level. In contrast, Apple indicates that RCS currently lacks encryption as robust as that of iMessage.

The decision to embrace RCS by Apple comes after years of pressure from competitors like Samsung and Google. Apple had resisted this pressure until now, instead doubling down on iMessage. However, the company has made some improvements to the SMS experience for interactions between iPhones and Android devices.

For instance, Apple enhanced Tapbacks support in iOS 16 for conversations between iPhone and Android users. With iOS 17, iPhone users gained features such as threaded replies and message editing in SMS group chats (though unavailable to Android users).

Moreover, Apple has pledged to collaborate with GSMA members in refining the RCS protocol. This includes efforts to improve the security and encryption of RCS messages. Apple has assured 9to5Mac that it will not impose any proprietary end-to-end encryption on top of RCS, redirecting its focus towards enhancing the RCS standard itself.

In comparison, Google integrates end-to-end encryption within the Messages app on Android, rather than in the RCS specifications.

From Tim Cook's dismissal of RCS in 2022, a significant transformation has taken place. At the time, Cook argued that Apple had not received substantial user requests for RCS support on the iPhone. When questioned about the subpar SMS experience, he advised, "Buy your mom an iPhone."

A subsequent report from Bloomberg in the same year indicated that Apple did not consider adding RCS support to the iPhone, at least not at that point.

The elephant in the room is the imminent legislation in the European Union that could have potentially compelled Apple to open up iMessage. Apple has contested this legislation, known as the Digital Markets Act, asserting that iMessage lacks sufficient presence in Europe to qualify as a "gatekeeper service."

Only last week, it was reported that Apple plans to appeal to the European Union regarding the inclusion of its App Store and iMessage services in the Digital Markets Act. Nevertheless, today's announcement demonstrates Apple's proactive approach in addressing potential regulatory concerns.

When RCS support debuts next year, the limitations of SMS and MMS will no longer plague (most) conversational exchanges between iPhone and Android users. Availability may vary across carriers, although all three major US carriers and a vast majority of global carriers already support RCS.

In today's announcement, Apple reiterates its commitment to other open standards. The company has collaborated closely with Amazon and Google on the Matter smart home standard. It has also collaborated with Microsoft, Google, and the FIDO Alliance to expand support for Passkeys. Furthermore, Apple played a pivotal role in developing the Qi2 wireless charging standard, built on the foundation of MagSafe.

For now, it remains unclear whether the infamous "green bubbles" will retain their color. However, it seems likely.

Debate surrounds whether Apple made the right decision to finally succumb to pressure and adopt RCS or whether the company should have held out longer. Share your thoughts in the comments.


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