Google 'Chat': Everything you need to know

Google Chat is said to be the latest messaging solution from the company and if the rumors are true, every problem with online messaging could disappear. That's a pretty bold statement, but what Google Chat is (and what it isn't), as well as how it's different from previous attempts, makes me believe that there's nothing else any one company can do and it this doesn't work nothing ever will.

Let's have a look at what it is and why it's different than previous attempts to "fix" online messaging.

The current problem

Right now online messaging is a digital battlefield filled with companies who only care what's best for themselves instead of making it easier for us. Services like iMessage and WhatsApp are great, but only if both sides of any online conversation are using the same app. There are several different standards that can be used and two of them we're all familiar with — SMS and XMPP — but that doesn't seem to matter because no service seems to want to use them the right way. SMS has been corrupted by companies like Verizon who try to use their version as a marketing tool and XMPP (what old apps like Jabra or Google Talk used) has been all but abandoned.

As usual, corporations are being corporations and making money comes before what's best for users. Same as it ever was.

The solution

RCS (Rich Communication Services) is a standard that can enhance and replace SMS and is able to give users an experience like iMessage or WhatsApp without both parties needing the same app, being on the same platform or through the same carrier. It's based on the premise that both users will have an active data connection and messages can be sent like they would through an instant messenger client using a set of protocols about how and what can be displayed. There's also a fallback that can use SMS for a "lesser" version of a message if a user doesn't have a data connection for a short period of time.

More:What is RCS and why is it important to Android?

SMS is one of those things that needs to die. We use it because it works, but it's expensive to maintain and horribly insecure and your phone company would be very happy for it to go away forever. That's not really feasible just yet, so the next best thing is for SMS to be a last resort when all the better ways to chat won't work. That's exactly what services like iMessage or Verizon Advanced Messaging are doing right now. When both sides are using it you'll have a nice messenger experience but if one side isn't the chat falls back to a text-only affair. Apple and Verizon both use this as a way to let you know how much better things would be if you used their products in the way they want you to use them.

RCS would make this become universal. No matter what app you are using on any phone, you'll have that enhanced experience as long as you have a data connection.

Where Google comes in

Google has tried all sorts of ways to give users a rich service for chatting that doesn't depend on SMS. This started with Google Talk (which used the XMPP standard) then Hangouts became a thing then Allo arrived and each service was a little bit better than the last. But each had a problem, and while that problem was different each time it always went back to one thing: Google was trying to fix it with an app and not a standard.

This has one major flaw — both sides need to use the app. Google made the app free and available for everyone, but everyone already had an app for chat and there was no incentive to change. I've said it before and I'll say it again — Allo is a wonderful app that everyone would love if there was anyone else using it. But nobody is ever going to switch away from iMessage or WhatsApp or Verizon Advanced Messaging and use Allo, and they shouldn't; switching from one app that locks you in to another that locks you in is silly.

What needed to be done is to find a way to get every company to adopt the same universal RCS protocol, and that's what Google seems to have accomplished. Mostly.

There have been a handful of carriers that jumped on the RCS train as soon as it became available. Sprint, Orange and Claro are names that come to mind and are also not the major players in each of their markets (that'd be AT&T, Vodafone and Vivo) so you always had more users unable to use a fully RCS capable messenger than you had that were. Android, Windows and iOS are all able to use RCS capable messaging clients but without carrier support that doesn't mean much.

Google Chat looks like it will just be a rebranding of the Messages app that already exists (and is already RCS-ready) and it's not the important part of of all this. The important part is that Google somehow convinced carriers to adopt the RCS universal profile and got Samsung to include it in their Messages app. These are the two things that kept us all from having a good chat experience by default all along and if the reports about Google Chat are true, we'll all be able to have that rich messaging client we want by using the same messaging client we've been using all along for texting.

The one unknown

It's important to remember than Google hasn't said much of anything just yet. Google Chat is one of those things that exists as a leak or rumor that looks to be 100% legitimate and comes from a trustworthy source. But there will probably be more details once Google makes it all official.

With that in mind, there is one big piece that will still be missing and that's the iPhone. iMessage is not RCS capable and actually uses the fact that it's not fully compatible with any other messaging service as a selling point. Because you can't change the default messenger app on an iPhone, this means that messages between an iPhone and everything else will still fall back to just text. Google can't fix this and it would take Apple adding the RCS universal profile abilities to iMessage to make things just work.

We expect more details about Google Chat and the RCS solution to come up at Google I/O 2018 in a few weeks. There are certainly a handful of unanswered questions and once we get any more details we'll add them right here. In the meantime we can think about all the extra space we'll have once we can uninstall all the various messaging apps we use now and just use one really good one for everything.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I could have told Google years ago to stop with the other apps and make a unified Google chat that works like text messages.
    Why did it take years for them to figure something so obvious out?
  • They did try to buy whatsapp.. That was probably an attempt to unify their messaging service on all platforms.
  • RCS and the universal profile concept have been around for years. The problem was always convincing carriers to adopt it. This is years in the making and it's finally happening. Here's hoping that it works well and eventually Apple adopts it.
  • Unless they're trying to siphon eight separate articles from this news, many manufactures and all US carriers on board with this. Even Microsoft is supporting RCS...
  • I can't corroborate this, but I heard somewhere that carriers intend on killing off SMS within the next 5 years or so. That would basically force Apple to fall back to RCS for iMessage.
  • They would like to kill SMS eventually...5 years is pretty aggressive due to the proliferation of SMS and most likely won't happen but eventually yes SMS will die and Apple will have to do something.
  • RCS uses SMS fallback
  • For now, yes.
  • "It's important to remember than Google hasn't said much of anything just yet. Google Chat is one of those things that exists as a leak or rumor..." The Verge article does directly quote Anil Sabharwal on the record about chat, so I would think that pushes it beyond rumor or leak status.
  • I think your right Jerry, it will have to be a standard that comes from Google. Android as a user platform between OEMs is - different - proprietary in some ways - which proves the only way to make it unified, is to make it a standard, and provide the code base for that standard. Anyway good discussion, look forward for more...
  • RCS is a standard and it did not come from Google. Google is using its leverage to force others to adopt it.
  • Okay - my misunderstanding..
  • i like SMS, it does what I need, i see no need to use anything else. I use facebook messenger now and again if I must and that is it, I have no interest in any of the other apps and I have no interest in RCS. i have no idea what is meant about SMS has been corrupted by companies, must be an U.S thing as i never get any marketing messages in the UK on my network. the only messages I get is from my bank to say money have gone out or from my broadband/mobile phone network provider saying my bill is ready and that they will take money out of my account a on a certain date. If SMS is as corrupted as the article said, then surly RCS is going to be worse?
  • The tech audience and tech writers for the most part are anti-corporate. They can't resist putting a jab in when possible.
  • Hell, I'm not saying anybody on this site. But some tech writers I believe are card carrying communist. The way they write articles. But it seems to be more concentrated on the Apple tech writers. More so than the Android tech writers
  • What in the actual ****?
  • So what part did you not under stand?
  • Maybe I misunderstood but I can assure you that none of the writers on this site are card-carrying anything let alone Communists.
  • Just a little humor, nothing to get excited about
  • If you live in America and you are not anti-corporate, you either are A. apart of big corp or B. not paying enough attention. At some point I hope we eventually push back on corporate greed but I am dubious.
  • You forget C. Emigrated from former Communist country and know how *that* ends.
  • US (and to a lesser degree Canadian) carriers favor SMS/MMS between devices on their networks and place unnecessary restrictions when you send a message to someone on another carrier. This ranges from delayed sending to compressing media so much it's unreadable. It's my understanding that this saves money somehow, which would make sense. RCS would be more like iMessage or using Hangouts on Google Fi. It uses your data connection instead of a carriers SMS channels whenever it's available
  • I'm coming round to the idea of RCS now and hope this really is the missing link for Google and their endless search for their messaging problem. But even though this will be a data service and therefore part of our data plan, will carriers find a way to charge per message? I remember when WhatsApp first became popular some networks here in the UK used to place a small additional charge per message sent even though it was a separate app and using data. I can see something similar happening again?
  • That was one of my concerns - even with prepaid phones etc., calls and SMS messages were not included in the data plan - they were free. I send a lot of pictures currently through MMS - A LOT - . Some I compress, others I do not... I'm thinking of older people, who use SMS and MMS as a primary source of communication... I guess we will see how this pans out...
  • In most of the world SMS is not included for free and can be quite expensive.
  • iMessage and Hangouts rely on the central servers run by Apple and Google respectively. For iMessage the determination of whether to use data or SMS is fairly simple -- if both ends are registered (not necessarily connected) to iMessage server -- use data, if not -- use SMS. Go ahead, move SIM from your iPhone to the feature phone and watch your iMessages happily disappearing into the black hole. ISTR that Hangouts will leave the transport to the user -- you can select SMS or Hangouts message. I am really interested in how RCS supposed to work when I travel to US with my Claro SIM and connect to T-Mobile tower...
  • You say you have no interested in RCS but the beauty of this is that it doesn't matter whether you have interest in it or not. If you have a compatible handset and are using the default SMS client on it, which is likely Android Messages or Samsung's Messages app, than when the carriers "turn on " their universal RCS support, you'll just be using RCS. You, as a user, don't have to do anything different. It'll just happen.
  • Exactly, that is the beauty of this. Nothing for users to do or adopt. If you're using SMS now you will be using RCS in the future in the same app and have the features RCS enables. SMS will still be there as a fall back for now...and for messages from iphones. This is more applicable to the US than the rest of the world because SMS is still king here. Most of the rest of the world uses WhatsApp or similar apps.
  • The reason the so called rest of the world is using WhatsApp is that there is no unified standard and RCS would help move people away from needing to use WhatsApp as they would be able to send all kinds of messages on whatever their text messaging app is. At the moment we use WhatsApp when we want to send rich media like photos and GIFs and short videos (MMS is a problematic on a lot of service providers). And then we can use SMS for clear text messages, especially to people who do not use smartphones. With sms you can successfully send a message to anyone, while to use WhatsApp, the other contact must also be using WhatsApp.
  • Thanks for the unnecessary clarification...
  • > With sms you can successfully send a message to anyone
    It depends... a lot of SMS-relying services *could not* successfully send SMS to the Google Voice number... and, in most cases, SMS is not free when crossing country codes.
  • That's fine for you. But your needs don't equate to what others want or need. Myself personally, I'm a big fan of the "presence state" that the RCS protocol supports. I like being able to set myself as "Available/Away/Do-Not-Disturb/Invisible" etc.. Which you don't get with SMS. Network based blacklisting is another RCS feature I'd like to have.  
  • Do we know when Google's newest none-starter is due out?
  • Non-starter is in this case appropriate but not as a shot the way you intended. It's a non-starter because you don't have to start anything to use it...if you're using SMS now you will be using RCS in the future whether or not you know it or want it (not sure why anyone wouldn't want it...)
  • It's not RCS that I'm saying will be a non-starter, I'm sure in a decade or so everyone will be using it, and Google isn't responsible for it. It's Google's "chat" app I'm talking about. It doesn't matter how good it is or isn't if no one ever taps it. I know i won't be using it, no dark theme.
  • Google Chat is not an app. It's the branding of the "protocol." Google is not creating a new app. Whatever app you choose, will likely support RCS.
  • So they aren't rebranding messages to chat, and there isn't going to be an app called chat on my phone that I won't use? Interesting... You should contact AC and tell them to correct the article.
  • Right now there is a rumor that messages will be rebranded as chat. But we know that the protocol that they're trying to push is called chat.
  • You don't have to use Google's app. You can use any app that support RCS... Also, I have a dark theme on my Android Messages app so there's that...
  • I know I can, that's why I'm saying the app, just the app... THE APP! Will remain largely irrelevant. Where is the dark option? I just looked at messages and there doesn't seem to be one, so there's that... Maybe you're using Substratum, so am I. But why use a layer on an app without a dark theme by default when there are alternatives that do just as good a job that do?
  • It may be irrelevant to you but Android Messages is one of the most widely used SMS apps. I'm using substratum for a black theme. Messages is one of the few apps I bother themeing. I use it because it's a basic SMS app that's simple and looks good. It's from Google so I don't have to worry about a 3rd party snatching up my data (well except Google but they already have all of my data...sigh).
  • Ah, now if only our providers in the UK would adopt RCS, that'd be grand
  • "Google Chat looks like it will just be a rebranding of the Messages app that already exists " In The Verge's interview the the guy running the Chat division, they clearly say that "Google Chat" will be a feature of Android Messages, not a rebranding.
  • Thank you for mentioning this! This site has been incorrectly stating that same sentence in multiple articles. They really need to fix the article.
  • If it doesn't work with Google Voice then it's a non-starter.
  • If this works properly, then Google Voice won't really have any advantages left for me.
  • RCS would most likely make Google Voice obsolete with its VOIP features.  
  • would those features include the ability to ring multiple phone devices? I would be fine with not having Google Voice, if RCS means I could access messages via a computer and still have multiple phones ring. if that is not part of RCS, then I would hope that GV would be updated to use RCS, just like Google would hope that everyone else would update their sms app to rcs!
  • Apple will not give up iMessage unless threatened within an inch of it's life. There are many that use apple phones simply because of iMessage, and that app alone. Apple is going to find a way to stop this from happening. Could this get into monopoly territory?
  • It will be the carriers that eventually force Apple to adopt but they will fight it all the way.
  • They don't have to give it up all they have to do is adapt it slightly
  • "iMessage is not RCS capable and actually uses the fact that it's not fully compatible with any other messaging service as a selling point." I'm going to assume it's possible for Apple to code the RCS standard into their software? If that can happen, and it's the new "standard" for the carriers, I see no problems. Apple can still have their iMessage, Android can still use whatever RCS app they want, and everyone is happy. "It's based on the premise that both users will have an active data connection and messages can be sent like they would through an instant messenger client using a set of protocols about how and what can be displayed." What does that mean for those of us without an unlimited data plan? Would the carriers change the way it sees RCS messages and not count against data? I am on a corporate plan, so I have no control or say in what my data plan. This is my only hang-up with using RCS.
  • I don't want Apple to support it. It's not e2e encrypted - it can't be because it needs all the carriers to be involved. If you care about privacy this is probably not a good option. Can't see Apple going for this.
  • Apple already falls back to SMS which isn't encrypted. This would be no different. iMessage to iMessage messages could still be encrypted. There is a good point about security here, though, hopefully encryption can be incorporated into the RCS universal profile in the future. Until then I will continue to use Signal for sensitive messages.
  • Try charging an iPhone with a USB-C cable (or an older iPhone sith a micro-USB cable) and you'll find out how much Apple cares about industry standards.
  • > Google Chat is one of those things that exists as a leak or rumor that looks to be 100% legitimate and comes from a trustworthy source. Wasn't the Verge article taking quotes directly from an interview with Anil Sabharwal? Sabharwal even tweets about doubling down on Messenger. This isn't a leak, it's a soft announcement.
  • Another bang-up job by the (non-existant) proofreaders @ A.C.... Missing comma towards the end of this run-on sentence, and used the wrong word completely at the end there ("it" instead of "if"). I didn't get past the 2nd sentence, so there may be more typos (usually are): "That's a pretty bold statement, but what Google Chat is (and what it isn't), as well as how it's different from previous attempts, makes me believe that there's nothing else any one company can do and it this doesn't work nothing ever will."
  • you're gess iz az gud as mines".
  • If you're looking for typos instead of content you're reading the wrong author.
  • Whats tha problum? His prent an prose's seems fines to mines eyes.
  • Cant see what the problem with just regular texts is. Herein the uk they work well. If I want to send pictures and gifs I use whats app,as its data.
  • That is the problem right there. You're having to use 2 separate apps when iMessage can do it all from one place. That's a convenience Google want because it's a main reason people won't ditch their iPhones despite Android having better phones.
  • Question- will RCS be a data hog or even worse- will carriers use this as an opportunity for an additional charge given that "unlimited texting" will effectively go away as we currently know it?
  • It's designed with using less data than you would think in mind however it is going to use a lot more data than texting because currently, because most techs are not using your data plan at all. That said in the US data is generally a unlimited plan and so it really shouldn't be an issue. This is more of an issue in Europe in other places Who currently don't even have unlimited texting.
  • Not sure I'd agree that most of us in the US us on unlimited- I know I'm not.
  • Not sure what you are basing the comment on unlimited data on, most people I know, myself included, aren't on an unlimited plan.
  • What carrier do you use in US for "generally unlimited [data] plan"? Even those carriers that offer unlimited data usually charge arm and leg for it and some put tethering restrictions anyway. Most (all) prepaid US carriers do not offer unlimited data plan. Unlimited SMS, though is pretty standard fare.
  • If they can add a black theme to get rid of the hideous white backgrounds Google is known for, I might consider Android messages. Other than that there is really nothing special about it yet.
  • I'm just hoping this can be added into other messaging apps as well. I prefer Textra over the default Messages app from Google.
  • Textra is nearly perfect; it's my go-to texting app
  • Allo is awesome they should just combine messages with Allo under the Allo name less confusing various names. Keep the Allo and Duo names with added support for sms/mms rcs etc
  • So, are RCS messages free (as in beer) to cross country codes?
  • If you're going RCS to RCS right now it's dependent on both carrier supporting that technology and doing it under the same protocol in which case yes it would be free. If there is a deviation from those conditions than it is currently billed as SMS or MMS according to the plans of each individual.
  • OK, so you are telling me that I should be able to put my Peruan Claro SIM into my phone and text my friend in Madrid (Orange) for free? That sounds attractive... albeit unlikely.
  • Google's two problems with this are: 1. Making it voluntary rather than the new standard, such as maps, Gmail, etc., which must be included in order to access Google play services. 2. Lack of security due to lack of encryption. These messages should be going to and from Google servers in a secure fashion, not shooting out everywhere in an unsecure manner. By leaving it voluntary, let's see how long Verizon and at&t say screw you in regards to adopting this, especially since they control about 70% of the US market. I'll be sure to get back with you in a couple of years on this to check on the amount of progress made.
  • So a couple things here These messages are not going to Google servers and this isn't an app that could become the new standard or included on the device such as the apps that you mentioned because this is actually a protocol for the carriers themselves
  • Yes it could, as Google Messages, with those protocols, if Google chose to do so and make it mandatory as a Play Services requirement. Google itself has already discussed their decision in leaving it voluntary as opposed to making it mandatory, which would be the only thing to produce a true iMessage competitor in the US.
  • Then it would just be the same as WhatsApp or Telegram, etc. This is about getting away from that kind of thing. So that you don't have to worry about what app the person you are contacting is using.
  • You don't have to worry about getting away from any kind of apps because it has SMS fallback, as opposed to waiting on the fairytale voluntary participation while retaining fragmentation. Bottom line, without making it mandatory, it's just another half-assed attempt at cohesive Android messaging that will remain woefully fragmented. Along with the lack of security being completely unacceptable.
  • Until carriers other than Sprint rolls this out it's a non starter. Google had a great chat platform called Hangouts and ruined it. This 'Chat' depends on carriers cooperating too much to solve anything
  • If they manage to get the backing of GSMA, it will be a success.
  • What a dumb name. They're finally working on something that looks promising and they remove their brand name Android Messages lol
  • For those that are worried about the data used by RCS. A quick research and math lead me to 1mb of data would allow a little over 7000 SMS texts at full 160 characters max per text (Who text's that much?). Assuming RCS could have similar data usage, if only used for plain texts, then this is not much in the grand scheme of data. Data should not be a real factor in considering RCS. The benefits look to be greater than any perceived negatives.
  • True Story: my wife had a stroke about 5 years ago. Once she was stable and I returned to work I still had great anxiety leaving her, but bills were piling up do I didn't really have a choice. We both used Hangouts. I accidentally left my phone at home one day and was worried something would happen with no way of her reaching me. I simply opened up desktop Hangouts as was able to keep in touch with by chat. The next day once I had my phone we used SMS to check in. At one point I thought her responses were a little off so I launched video chat to make sure her speech wasnt slurred. All of this was done with one app, Hangouts. No one cares about a standard. The goal is to effectively communicate. If carrier pigeons were the best medium fro such then that is what would be utilized. What problem is RCS a solution to?
  • Android messages is going to support a desktop client as well.
  • They should not call it Google chat but Messages, this is why some people don't use their apps. If there's a Google name on it you know there's a "spying" or tracking from Google where you may be told to login. I know it's the "new SMS" but it should keep the name "Messages" that's all.
  • This will be brillant if it pans out. Currently I communicate with most people on WhatsApp, but the way Facebook has been carrying on has really turned me off it. Then I have one friend who doesn't have it so I have to message him on Messenger and another who only can be contacted by DM in Twitter. This should negate the use of all that messing about. My only questions are what android phones are going to be capable of running chat? Are we going to see a fragmentation where say only android Nougat phones and above can run it? Also my wife sends alot of MMS messages to her parents who have feature phones, how will this be handled by Chat? It falls back to SMS for text, but what about pictures? Lastly, which has already been touched on, are carriers going to try and levy additional charges for the service?
  • Messages NEEDS a night/dark mode. I can't stare at all that white screen.
  • Quote: "We expect more details about Google Chat and the RCS solution to come up at Google I/O 2018 in a few weeks." In summary, the author of this article knows nothing, and that's everything that you need to know.
  • Well... If it does end up working out the way they want hopefully they fix the issue with the lag. I can't even use the app because it is so SLOW... Anyone having the same problem?