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The Plan to Give Android Users Their Own Version of iMessage Is Officially Dead

Gizmodo logo Gizmodo 4/14/2021 Florence Ion
a close up of a plate on a table © Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

RCS, or Rich Communication Services, was supposed to unite the Androids. But with the news that Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have all abandoned the effort toward a unified messaging platform, it looks like more turbulent times for the green bubbles.

According to telecom news outlet Light Reading, the three big carriers have all pulled out from the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) meant to standardize RCS by 2020. Spearheaded by Sprint back in 2019, the CCMI was a consortium with plans to develop an RCS-reliant messaging app for Android users so that they’d have a platform akin to Apple’s iMessage. RCS allows for enhanced messaging and is already standard in markets overseas. It enables features like read receipts, higher quality media, and better group conversations—what iMessage users have been enjoying for years. The idea was that the CCMI would develop another app Android users could download to have all those features between one another.

But the CCMI was dead in the water the minute it was announced. Google has long been vocal about Android’s support for RCS, but the company wasn’t even mentioned in the original CCMI press release. Then Sprint, the torchbearer of the CCMI, folded under the wing of T-Mobile. And more RCS-compatible messaging apps arrived in the Play Store, including Google’s Messages, further adding to the fragmentation already prevalent on the platform.

For their part, the three big U.S. carriers have been relatively quiet on the matter, with Verizon telling Light Reading that the blame was on the owners of the CCMI.

Thus far, the only carrier that’s fully committed to RCS is T-Mobile, with plans to make Messages the default on all smartphones purchased from the carrier going forward. That doesn’t solve the issue of interoperability between Android users, however. Verizon and AT&T are still peddling their own messaging apps on devices sold through their networks. And though both carriers have offered their commitments to RCS, it’s still limited to chats within their respective networks.

RCS is a standard that was introduced back in 2008 as the next-generation version of SMS, which we still use to send text messages. However, SMS is fairly dated technology, and apps like WhatsApp have become popular because of their advanced abilities. Google has been the biggest cheerleader for RCS, even purchasing middleware company Jibe and bundling it into Messages to help speed up compatibility.

The only way that true RCS compatibility will come to all Android users is if the carriers default to the app that supports it already and trash the rest. But that’s not going to happen because carriers haven’t figured out how to make money off of it. And it still won’t solve the problem of chatting with iOS devices—Apple doesn’t support the standard, presumably to keep iMessage exclusive to Apple devices.

Android users have long complained about the siloed messaging economy on the platform. Perhaps the best way to deal with this as an Android user is to set the Messages app as your default in protest of all these convoluted efforts. That seems to be what Google is betting on, anyway.

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