Google 'Chat' isn't the next iMessage and wasn't supposed to be

Remember way back on April 19, 2018 when the Verge told us about Google "Chat"? In case you've been under that rock we all like to hide under sometimes, it's a push to get everyone — carriers and manufacturers of phones, tablets and computers — to adopt the RCS universal profile. That means text messages will no longer suck because they aren't limited to just text and a certain length. It also means you can use whatever app you like and get an experience like WhatsApp with rich media even if the other party is using a different app. it's like the newer, better SMS and even carriers have incentive to use it.

A look at social media the next morning painted a very different picture.

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Everyone started to compare Google "Chat" to iMessage (because of course they did). In a lot of ways — having stickers, emojis, embedded media and even video abilities — it could be. We've even compared it to iMessage in that way, because it gives every Android phone on every carrier a way to talk to everyone else that's not just 160 characters of WYD? and TTYL. But there are some big differences between the two. Big enough that any outright comparison between them is only causing controversy for controversy's sake.

Chat is not an app. It may be built into an app from Google (we know it will but Google needs to get on record on a stage somewhere) but there is no stand alone app that let's you use Chat because Chat is not a "thing" — it is a name tacked onto a standard.

If it were an app it would be limited to users who want to install and use the one app to talk to other people who use the same app and then send a text or Facebook Message to everyone else. Google tried that and failed. Then it tried again and failed again. Then it (wisely) decided to stop trying to shoehorn people into using just one app for a better messaging experience; let us use the apps we already like that already work with each other and make the experience better.

More: Google "Chat": Everything you need to know

On the other hand, iMessage is an app. It is the only app that can use the advantages people are speaking of, and only people with an iPhone or had an iPhone at one time to set up iMessage with a phone number can use it. And if you use it, you can't drop the SIM card into another phone and send text messages without undoing the connection to iMessage.

It does deliver a very nice experience filled with rich media and video and everything else plus offers end to end encryption as long as both parties use iMessage. For the other 80% of the people on this planet who have a smartphone from a company that's not Apple it's back to 160 characters of unencrypted WYD? through SMS. It may or may not end up supporting the RCS universal profile and if it does, 2 billion more people will be able to talk to iPhone users with a newer, better text messaging experience.

Chat is also not Signal. Neither is iMessage for that matter because I use an Android phone and Apple has decided that my messages aren't worthy of end to end encryption through their service. Signal is a great app that acts as a text messenger client, phone dialer, and video calling app using end to end encrypted communications for both parties no matter if they are using an Android phone or an iPhone.

There are apps that offer encrypted messaging to everyone and don't have Facebook involved, but iMessage is not one of them.

I know Signal is a great app because I use it every day. People deserve to have privacy through encryption no matter what phone they use and Signal does that better than anyone else. If you really care about privacy when you're texting or making a call you need to use Signal because iMessage is not encrypted when chatting with or calling the vast majority of smartphone users in the world.

For Google to offer the magical unicorn that is universally encrypted rich text messaging, it would need to make yet another app get people to install Allo. Google knows that nobody wants to install Allo because it knows how many people have an Android phone and how many people have an iPhone as well as how many people have downloaded, installed and registered it. That horse is dead and no amount of beating will revive it.

Neither will any amount of drum beating for Apple or claiming Google needs to change the world. You'll get your Chat and you'll damn well like it. (Seriously, you'll like it because it will make the app you already use a lot better.)

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.