26 April 2019
It has been over a decade since Google started its quest for releasing an ultimate SMS-killer solution. During all these years, it even shifted its plans and decided to come up with an Apple iMessage clone for all Android users. As a result, we got to see a bunch of messaging apps/services from Google but all of them failed to take off. While Google is still committed to bringing an advanced messaging experience to Android that will make the terrors of SMS go away, it has now opted for a new approach which is more likely to work as compared to any of its previous attempts.
In an exclusive interview with The Verge, Google has confirmed that its whole focus is now at the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services (RCS). It will be releasing the same as "Chat" to all end consumers with the hope of delivering a unified and improved messaging experience to all Android users. It is worth mentioning that "Chat" is not a new messaging app, it is simply a new messaging standard which will be released as an upgrade to the currently used standard in the default SMS app (Android Messages on most devices).
This new messaging standard RCS will offer a bunch of advanced features which will make the SMS experience equivalent of instant messenger apps. It means users will get support for group conversations, reading receipts, typing indicator, high-quality media transfer, GIFs, stickers, and more. In simpler words, the whole instant messenger experience that you get on apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger will become available for SMSes as well. To make it a little more advanced, Google will also add support for Assistant to the standard.
This further means that all messages sent via RCS platform will be charged as per data plan (like it happens with instant messengers) as long as the recipient is also using a device with RCS support. If the recipient does not have the support, the message will be delivered like a conventional SMS and a relevant cost will be deducted from your phone's balance.
Another thing to keep in mind is that even though it is Google who is backing the idea of unified RCS standard and is trying to get all the carriers onboard, it will eventually be up to carriers if and when they would like to enable RCS support for users. Google is confident that many of the carriers will flip the switch to RCS by the end of this year, the actual timeline can actually vary which could even run into months.
But there are few more important things that are worth noting down. The first one among them is that Google's Chat will not be offering end-to-end encryption for sent and received messages. This is because even though RCS is an advanced messaging standard, it is still based on the tradition messaging protocol which came without any encryption features. The second thing to keep in mind is that Apple has not said anything yet about supporting RCS. This means even though Android boasts billions of users worldwide, Apple's stand regarding the standard can actually make or break it.
Google has opted for Anil Sabharwal as the man responsible for making sure that Chat reaches its goal. He is the person responsible for leading Photos apps suite and making it such a huge success for Google. In an attempt to move forward in the direction of the target, Google is said to have paused development and investment to its current-generation messaging app called Allo. The whole team working on Allo is reported to have been moved to work on Chat.
After considering all the points, RCS-based Chat seems to be Google's best shot so far at offering a universal and advanced SMS experience to Android users. It is loaded with features and is quite capable of taking on the likes of WhatsApp. All we need to do is to wait and see what will be the response of users to RCS when it will become available at a much larger scale than it already is.