Why is Google struggling to replace SMS with RCS? And why can Apple help him?

Android has always suffered from a fragmentation problem. Since manufacturers and operators can modify the operating system as they wish, Google has never really succeeded in making its services essential for all users.
The most obvious example is that of messaging where, facing Apple and its iMessage, Google gives the impression of being stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The company has launched many different software, hoped to make them benchmark applications, but still struggles to compete against WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Signal, WeChat, Snapchat, Instagram or against the good old SMS, which do not do not want to go away. There is no universal messaging app on Android, much to its creator’s dismay.

A standard for a universal base?

Realizing that it is too late to catch up with WhatsApp or Messenger, Google changed its strategy a few years ago. The Web giant now wants to kill the good old SMS, obsolete and insecure, by replacing it with a standard called RCS, for Rich Communication Services, integrated under the name of Chat functionalities in its universe.
A standard of which he is not the father but rather a faithful defender. The RCS was, in fact, in development from 2007, only to be finalized in 2016 by the GSMA, whose lack of motivation is puzzling. It was not until 2018 that Google seized it with conviction and began to make it its mouthpiece.

Distributed over IP, and therefore independent of 2G / 3G switched networks, and even of the SMSoIP protocol of 4G and 5G, which is perfect for the weight of a Net giant, RCS messages can contain much more ‘information as SMS / MMS. They allow you to exchange high-resolution images, videos and indicators such as the reading time of a message or, as on iMessage, the fact that your correspondent is writing.
RCS was also designed to work in groups, like any other messaging application. Its main advantage, in Android, is that you don’t need to install anything, since Android Messages is there, and compatible.
To ensure that your messages are correctly delivered your messages are correctly delivered, “Google uses information such as your phone number, your device identifiers and your SIM card number”. But everything is transparent to you, and this data is only kept temporarily.
Another fundamental point is that all conversations are end-to-end encrypted, via TLS technology, for Transport Layer Security.

However, despite the undeniable contribution of this protocol, despite the weight of Google, two years after its deployment in the application Android Messages, RCS is still not the norm. How to explain this slowness?

Too many partners to convince

As we said in the introduction, Google’s difficulties are due to the fragmentation of Android. Initially, Google had asked operators to set up their own RCS servers. The company quickly realized that its partners weren’t going to play the game and decided to become the intermediary through which your messages pass.
Only problem, its servers can only work with Android Messages, its own messaging application normally installed on all Android smartphones.

The problem is in the “normally”. In the United States in particular, operators preinstall their own SMS applications on the smartphones they sell. The user has the option to install Android Messages and configure it by default but, in all fairness, can you really imagine an 80 year old grandmother changing her default SMS client to benefit from RCS?
Another problem, this time worldwide, most manufacturers have also long used their own messaging applications, just to sell services on the side. Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Huawei… all of them do. Android Messages has never been the application installed by default on smartphones from the largest manufacturers, reducing Google’s efforts to nothing. In other words, even by deploying the RCS itself, Google has only reached a minority of owners of an Android mobile.

The “forcing” method

But times are changing. Since 2020, Google has been trying to impose its application Android Messages… With strangely great success. All Chinese manufacturers have given up on their in-house messaging application and are now using Google’s application by default. To succeed in this feat, the Android dad simply revised the terms of his contract when using his services.
Oppo, Xiaomi, and OnePlus have somehow been constrained, which is ultimately good news for owners of these smartphones. Smart, Google also took the opportunity to ask them to highlight its other software such as Duo or Assistant, now displayed on the home page.

Another thorn in the side of Google, the operators. In France, where most mobiles are purchased without obligation, we are spared this problem (the RCS has been deployed with all operators since June 2019). Elsewhere, particularly in the United States, the reality is quite different. The good news is that Google has just succeeded in convincing Verizon, the last of the three big American operators, to follow it.
From 2022, the operator will give up its SMS application, like AT&T and T-Mobile before it, which will allow Android smartphone owners in the United States to communicate with each other without texting. We imagine that Google has released the checkbook.

Google’s latest problem is called Samsung, but the two companies have almost found common ground. The latest smartphones from the Korean brand also haveAndroid Messages but, strangely, Samsung Messages is always the software chosen by default. In view of the merger between the two companies, it is likely that Google will eventually convince Samsung. Without the biggest seller of smartphones in the world, RCS cannot become the norm.

Apple has the future of RCS in its hands

We come to Apple. With iMessage, Tim Cook’s business does not suffer from the same problems as its neighbor. Truth be told, it has succeeded wherever Google has failed. All iPhone users use the same app, go through its secure platform, and most importantly, are so happy that they don’t want to leave. iMessage is a spectacular success due to its seamless integration into the Apple ecosystem.

Unfortunately for Google, the RCS doesn’t stand a chance of completely eliminating texting without Apple’s help. With 26% market share in June 2021 (according to StatCounter), iOS occupies too much of the smartphone market to be left out.
However, Google does not want RCS to be the standard for messaging between Android smartphones, but the standard for messaging. He must therefore convince Apple, which is not necessarily known for its great listening skills.

“In the future, the default messaging experience on Android will be the most secure. The messaging experience on the other platform will not be encrypted, since it is still SMS. I think this is an interesting dynamic and I hope that as everyone focuses on security and privacy it becomes an important part of the discussion. ” Android boss Hiroshi Lockheimer told The Verge.

With this kind of statement, Google is playing the provocation card with Apple. iOS being reputed to be a platform that respects the privacy of its users, the inability to communicate with the owner of an Android smartphone other than by SMS is inevitably a thorn in its side.
Google, which has indicated that it does not wish to launch its own RCS client on iOS, wants to push Apple to adopt the standard in the future. Today, nothing suggests that Apple will follow. The privacy card may be in its principles, the RCS could harm iMessage. Although it is technically possible that RCS and iMessage coexist, one would be used when iPhones communicate with an Android smartphone, the other when Apple smartphones exchange with each other. Can Apple consider that only conversations between iPhone owners are worth protecting?

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It’s hard to imagine. Because that would be tantamount to saying that Apple tolerates that a large part of its users’ conversations, those maintained with Android users, are not. However, Apple likes to point the finger at the weaknesses of its neighbors, but in this case, it would be the cause of this weakness …
And then, recently, the opening of FaceTime to Android (and Windows) users shows that Apple is not reclusive, at least not when it comes to offering a better experience to its users.

Either way, even under the assumption that Apple and Samsung fully embrace RCS, SMS is likely to survive for a long time to come. Even if most users will switch to the new standard in spite of themselves, some owners of old mobiles will continue to use SMS for their part (especially since alternative messaging applications will continue to be offered on the Play Store, without RCS).
In other markets, such as China, Android Messages is for example not present at all. There, even though local apps like WeChat dominate, the SMS should still remain powerful.
In short, even as a legitimate heir to the SMS, the RCS is still far from being able to kill its ancestor. He should nevertheless succeed in his bet and become the majority, but in how long?

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