13 May 2020
Rich Communication Services (RCS), a communication protocol is long overdue support that Google has been planning to bring to the Android phones. We have been hearing the plans of Google to bring iMessage-like platform using RCS for a long time now but nothing is executed yet or has a proper form built that could allow users to send and receive rich messages. One of the main hurdles is complicated carrier and phone maker politics. Having said that, for RCS to work across carriers, each individual carrier must decide some parameters like interoperability and which devices are compatible.
But, now according to TheVerge’s report, Google is bringing the direct RCS support to Android phones so that they don’t need to depend on carriers to start using WhatsApp-like or Apple iMessage-like chat features. To start with, Android users in the UK and France will be able to opt-in to use RCS Chat service provided directly by Google, instead of waiting for the carrier to support it.
This is indeed a great move taken by Google; instead of relying on the slow carriers, Google is taking responsibility in its own hands. The report also mentions that this opt-in version of RCS will eventually roll out for many more people.
Note that the top four carriers in the US support the RCS in some form but the rollout from them has been quite spotty and one of the reasons behind this inconsistency is said to be the incompatibility with hardware. It’s turned out that the hardware must also support RCS for that carrier. Take, for instance, Pixel 3a for T-Mobile doesn’t support the RCS, so now the direct support of Google for it would help the device offer rich chat features once the support rolls out.
To the uninitiated ones, RCS is a rule that comes as a support for the chat service. This helps in sending attachments, images, videos, large files; basically rich media over the chat that you normally do by using any messenger app like WhatsApp. It would also support read receipts and typing notifications. While Google simplifies one of the main concerns of RCS, there’s still one obstacle in the tow that requires attention. Currently, RCS is not encrypted like WhatsApp or iMessage, both of which are end-to-end encrypted. In all such apps, neither the ISP nor the messaging service provider can intercept messages. But here with RCS Chat, the provider does have access to your attachments or any kind of rich content you send. Google has reportedly said, messages will be deleted once they are received, but attachments may be held until all recipients have downloaded them. However, according to the latest report, Google is working on it as well.
The product management director overseeing Android Messages has told The Verge,
We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, it highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we’re fully committed to finding a solution for our users.
Back in 2018, it was reported that Google transferred the team that was working on its Allo app to work on a wider RCS implementation, which will be marketed under the branding Chat. And now taking the responsibility of bringing this big support to Android phones in its own hands further shows the seriousness of Google. This RCS Chat is an opt-in process. So, when users open up the Android Messages app, they’ll see a prompt offering to upgrade to RCS Chat. The report states, “RCS Chat will be in the default app and offered to every Android user, but for now the plan is not to make it the default.”