Texting is long overdue for a makeover. The simple, utilitarian Short Message Service (SMS) has served our messaging needs well for more than a decade, but as our texts become increasingly crammed with photos, videos, and more, it’s clear that SMS can no longer meet the needs of the average smartphone user. That’s where Rich Communications Services (RCS) comes in: the much-better platform that Google wants to put on your phone.
Google is working with a laundry list of carriers to make RCS the standard for all Android devices. In a move announced today by the GSMA, which is a global consortium of 800 carriers, Google will help create a universal RCS client (currently named Jibe) that will be adopted by all the GSMA carriers.
What makes RCS so much better? An RCS-powered Android client could enable messaging features like group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, and read receipts (for better or for worse). In the near future, video calling could also be supported by RCS. And of course, RCS would still support lower-tier standards like SMS and MMS as well.
The accelerated rollout of RCS is a direct response to popular messaging services like WhatsApp, which currently has a billion users worldwide and is owned by Google’s chief rival Facebook. The GSMA has been pushing the transition to RCS for almost a decade, but the slow-moving initiative has clearly lost ground to other apps and devices. If you have an iPhone this won’t matter to you at all because Apple’s developed its own iMessage platform which doesn’t use RCS.
So yes, RCS will help Google and its affiliated carriers and device manufacturers potentially win the messaging war, since Android is installed on about 80 percent of the world’s phones. But the good news is that this upgrade is also definitively better for users—it’s better to have one messaging platform that works across countries and carriers. Getting Google to sign on could be the big push that RCS needs to become the true universal standard.