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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
Jerry Hildenbrand

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.

105 Comments
  • For once it's not even Google I'm hoping gets this right but the carriers. As far as I'm aware only one network here in the UK has signed up so far to support this.
  • I'm not sure, really, what the big deal is with end-to-end encryption. There are certain things I would never send electronically through any messaging service, so for me, I'm not sure it's an issue. I just want all carriers to get their acts together and get it going.
  • Encryption is nice but I don't think the majority of the public cares about encryption. They simply want a way to send messages to people without having to think about what service they should use to send it.
  • But we have had that facility for years, it is called SMS, do we really need a system that can send stickers, emojis and other stuff like that? there are plenty of message systems to do that. the thing with SMS is that everyone have it and it is great for short messages. i do not think RCS will take off to be honest, for a start I fully expect phone networks to charge for using it, like they do with MMS.
  • Even if you don't regularly send stickers, GIFs, etc, RCS is vastly superior to SMS even just from a perspective of sending bulk text messages over 160 characters, less compressed pictures, and fluid group messaging. As well as read receipts, which has some merit for many. Saying you don't think "RCS is going to take off" is looking at it the wrong way. It's going to take off because we won't have a choice. Because carriers are going to implement it and replace SMS whether you want to or not, which you should, because it is objectively better in every way
  • SMS can send text messages over 160 characters, ok there is a bit of trickery to do it, but it works, not that I send many messages at that length. Granted read receipts could be useful.
    We do have a choice, to some extent, if we use just a normal SMS app, then RCS will become just like normal SMS. SMS will not stop all of a sudden, there are still plenty of phones out that will only use SMS. So even if all of the networks decided to support RCS next week it will still be years before it replaced SMS. I can still buy a normal non-smart phone new with SMS/MMS only. The other problem is will carriers implement RCS? So far in the UK, only one have shown any interest in it and that is vodafone.
    I am certainly not going to change the app I use, it does what I need.
  • Everybody does have SMS but I've had issues with people receiving some of my texts using that standard. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. To me, replacing or improving SMS with RCS is a good thing. At least you'll be more assured that what you're sending actually gets received. At least from the way its been described.
  • I have not had any problems with SMS for years, apart from to one of my mates and he just seems to have problems with his phones full stop. Too many phones on too many networks, not knowing what is what. but any other person I text is fine and I get text back. I know what I send gets to the destination because I get a message to say the message have been received, if it have been read or not is a different thing.
  • SMS/MMS allows you to send emoji's etc. People need to realize if you are a law abiding citizen it doesn't matter. If you may perform suspect activity or live in a communist country then you may need encryption. Just saying.... :-)
  • I guess people need to realize whether you are law abiding or not, governments spy on you anyway. Its call control and governmental fear. Just Saying don't be that one that believes governments don't spy on their citizens regardless of what you do.
  • This law abiding citizen with nothing to hide argument makes no sense to me. Do you think that anyone should be privy to everything you say to your mother? your girlfriend/boyfriend? your wife/husband? your lawyer? have you ever had a spoken conversation that you wanted to be private? have you ever had a conversation in a room full of people and only wanted the person you intended to hear you be the only person that did? If so, then encryption should have value to you even if none of these conversations involved you plotting a nefarious criminal deed. In fact, encryption should be more of a concern because your written conversations are far more permanent and vulnerable to an unintended third-party gaining access to the conversation without encryption.
  • Ohh, the hours of boredom awaiting the third party that gets a copy of my messages! I am sure they are excited for that!
  • Only basic emoji's, i doubt SMS would understand some of the new ones now their seems to be hundreds if not thousands of the dreaded things. Years ago all we had was Happy :-) sad :-( and a couple of others and that was it and enough to be honest. Maybe it is a teen thing. As for encryption, If i really need to send stuff encrypted i use email.
  • Not Gmail I hope.
  • Opps, clicked the wrong button and reported that post, so if anyone sees this, ignore that. There really should be a are you sure you want to do this thing on the report thing. Anyway, no, not Gmail, i pay for an email service, prefer that then using one of the free ones.
  • You keep believing that.
  • "Do we really need vibrant communication," is what you're really asking here and the answer is yes. Sending a silly sticker or embedded GIF with your face "shopped" on right inside a local messaging app is fun, expressive and at times a more effective way to connect with others. The limitations of SMS are in no way "fine" in 2018. Perfect example, on iMessage if I'm out of town on work, I can record a video of me playing a song on an instrument for my kids and share the ENTIRE full resolution video (up to what like 1080?) with my wife on iMessage. Boom done. As easy as sending a picture. On Android or with Android users, you have to select a limited portion of the video and then send it at like 480 resolution. It's a deal breaker. To me, if I can't use my communication device that cost $1000 to quickly, securely and easily communicate in rich colorful ways with associates and people I love, I'm really just yanking my pud about how "elite" my "turtley free" electric brick of self indulgence is.
  • You can send full videos on Android too you just can't do it through the sms client. Plenty of ways to do it
  • The limitations of SMS is fine for me, i do not really need send a gif of a kettle to tell a friend of mine I am close by and to put the kettle on.
    There are ways to send video on Android if you really want to and also do you really think that RCS will be free or included with your monthly fee like SMS is now? i pay £7.99 a month for a sim only contract, I get 1,000 mins of talk time, unlimited SMS and 2GB of data. Do you really think my network provider will allow me to RCS in that unlimited text?
  • Trying having a group chat with sms and people across different carriers and phones from who knows and how old. Your sms inbox quickly becomes a mess and confusing.
  • why would I? There are ways to do that if you really want to. Skype is one way, even if MS have mucked it up.
  • Oh good god, one of these comments. Why am I not surprised? I may not send sensitive data over texting, but you bet your ass I want it to be end-to-end encrypted. That's why I use iPhone X as my main phone and my Pixel 2 XL as a backup. I like knowing that my data and messages are safe.
  • LOL! You keep thinking that. If you elieve for one minute Apple wouldn't hand your info over if it benefited them somehow, you're even more ignorant than I give you credit for.
  • Clearly you don't understand what end to end encryption is. Apple CAN NOT access the contents because they don't have the encryption key. That being said, for most people this is completely unnecessary.
  • Unless you're in China. Then Apple just hands the encryption keys over (benefiting apple of course). They have already proved they will bend for benefit.
  • No, you're wrong. Apple retains the key to the messages on their servers.
  • GCBD, the Chinese company that manages the Chinese iCloud data has access to Chinese nationals data stored in iCloud China. Apple gave the keys away to do business there.
  • I was saying MobileGuru was wrong when he said that Apple didn't have access to iMessage keys. They do. If they didn't, they couldn't have given them to China.
  • many people consider iMessage to not be truly E2E because they have the encryption key. That said, iMessage is encrypted and while Apple retaining the key is not ideal it beats the hell out of SMS.
  • At the same time, SMS beats out iMessage because almost everyone can use it.
  • Goff, you're the dude that would be talking about how behind Apple is if Android had iMessage instead of Apple. And you'd be right. Also, you're wrong about the keys.
  • As a guy who has an iPhone, iMessage beats out SMS/MMS in terms of features and quality and the combo beat out iMessage in terms of possible user pool.
  • Apple doesn't keep the key.
  • Oh jeez, you can log on to imessage anytime and see your history of texts you don't think Apple can do that? Hahahhahaha
  • You are literally wrong. Apple has the key to your iCloud backup, so if you do not sync with iCloud, then they do not have a key to your messages. No matter how badly you hate Apple you are wrong. Stop being so irrational.
  • Then there's no need to worry about China having the keys to iMessage. How can Apple give over what they don't have?
  • Being a android user the issue with imessage is that when sending messages to iPhone users they may or may not get the messages vice versa. I do not like proprietary systems which imessage is. I avoid iPhone like the plague, I hate I had to switch from Windows Phone o Android but I did no choice... the better of two evils .... :-)
  • Nice perspective Jerry. I had some of the same comments my self in a forum post on the Verge here: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/23/17273346/rcs-some-perspective However, IMO iMessage is more of a service. It is not an app. The app on the iPhone is called "Messages" and iMessage can be turned off, which basically turns it into a basic SMS app. iMessage and Chat are alike as they are basically a rich messaging service. The difference is iMessage uses a propietary protocil and Chat uses a standard protocol, RCS.
  • Apple is using a proprietary protocol?? Come on, that's just not realistic ;-).
  • But in all seriousness, you raise a good point about the difference between iMessage the service, and the app. Helpful.
  • I never realized that they can turn iMessage off and just use it as an SMS app. Learn something new everyday!
  • I am not sure why you would want to turn off imessage
  • If you switch back and forth from Apple to Android phone, you need to keep it off. You have to get everyone to delete your iMessage chats before you can use SMS with them. Easier to just keep iMessage off.
  • Not true. You can turn on and off iMessage as you wish.
  • Githyanki is right, but you are also right. For individual messages, it doesn't matter as much but when it comes to a group with at least 3 people in the chat, you deal with that issue of not getting new messages and vice versa with it off. You have to make a whole new chat. I also leave it off as well.
  • Not sure where I really sit on this. I hope RCS works out great but I just dont know. I think I would have preferred google saying FU to the carriers and making android messages a app that has to be installed on all android devices and then linking it to your gmail. This is similiar to how iMessages works . Yes I can see the shortcomings of this but to the average consumer they wouldnt care. Just dont cause the blunder of not disconnecting gmail from phone number like apple did and problem is solved.
  • Google has already tried the app route and it has not worked. For example Google forces companies to use a set of Gapps like Gmail app which is on my phone right now but I'm not using it, so is just bloatware.
  • They just don't have that kind of control over other manufacturers to implement default apps. It would be a very different Android world if they did.
  • And then the wrath of the EC would come down and billions of euro of fines would magically appear.
  • It really is going to be great...
  • Dependent upon carrier cooperation rather than being being made mandatory by Google using Google Messages as a required inclusion along with Gmail, Google Maps, etc. for access to Google Play Services. Good luck with that, it’ll be interesting to see where this is at in a couple of years based upon carrier cooperation. I’d love to see it be a huge success, but I definitely won’t be holding my breath.
  • Android would be very different if they made app defaults mandatory. They just don't have the same advantage like Apple, but I think carriers will be the best option for a universal standard.
  • I honestly can't remember the last time I sent a personal message via good old SMS - everybody I know has WhatsApp and maybe iMessage too if they're Apple users. It's great if there is going to be a more modern, more capable SMS-style standard, but it won't really affect me. Maybe this is an 'ouside US' thing? But why is Google pushing for this - is it because as things stand they have no way of reading and analysing WhatsApp messages...?
  • > Maybe this is an 'ouside US' thing?
    Definitely not Europe -- WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram have sewn up that market a while ago. If I am to speculate... combined with the Android One, where storage is precious and installing an app is a decision to be made, and willingness of the Indian telecoms to implement RCS this would be a good play for a large market. Especially if Nokia will make strawberry-banana feature phone which is RCS-capable.
  • And that's the issue. Three different services have "tied up the issue." That is literally at the core of why these solutions are subpar. I have to sell mine (yet another one) to everyone I know.
  • Nope. I'm in Europe, and no one here uses WhatsApp.
  • Outside the US, WhatsApp appears to be the standard across the board. Personally I'm fine with using that. Unfortunately in the US, only my friends who are also immigrants use WhatsApp.
  • Same here. My family has a group chat on what's app... But that's it. I never open that app up. I use Facebook messenger and imessage exclusively
  • I don't think you are the norm. Sms is way easier as all you need is a phone number. Much easier to Sent a text to a business contact that I already have contact info for than to figure out if they have what's app etc
  • I do not use Whats app, i have no interest or need to use it, even if some people think I should install it. I do have facebook messenger, but i do not use that very often.
    Telegram is another one people say for me to install, but I do not see the point.
  • Then wtf did they even bother? Stupid Google and their arrogance. Just copy iMessages and admit apple did it better.
  • Good point Or make it similar - compatible with iMessage. If I was still into programming - this is what I would do - I think it would be profitable...
  • That's what I'm wondering, as with all their messaging platforms...why even bother?
  • Google is allergic to that kind of thinking. Won't do end-to-end encryption as standard which makes it insecure for users. Google just stop already, just stop.
  • Seriously, Apple CRUSHES in the messaging department. It is what it is. So if an iPhone has a 9.5 camera and an Android has a 9.9 camera, in the scheme of things its irrelevant because Google falls flat on its face with communications. You can't hide the messages from yourself (Google) while simultaneously harvesting their data so Google has no f😂cking clue how to solve the problem. Because it doesn't pay to.
  • You guys clearly don't understand the problem.
  • I'm hung up on your comment about Google building the chat service into an app; this is exactly what it needs! The users that register (linking their Google Account) with the app would have the ability to send encrypted messages to each other and other messages would just be RCS. This is the equivalent of what Messages is on iOS devices! Also I will mention that since Duo already seems to be popular on Android and iOS device, it also has the option to sign in with your Google Account, this would be the perfect product for Google to launch this on, IMHO.
  • I agree completely. They have the opportunity to improve the standard texting protocol dramatically and also deliver on encryption but it doesn't seem like they are making that latter a priority. From what I understand about how they are implementing RCS, I don't see a reason that they couldn't push for RCS adoption, and then make android messages more secure with encryption and then have RCS/SMS as a backup.
  • Nope... There needs to be a universal standard that all phones use out of the box... This BS with trying to get people you talk to download an app or use a specific phone, like iPhone, definitely is not OK... Tried that just does not work well. I just want to be able to send anyone a message regardless what app or phone they are using. If I really need encryption that bad I'll use a specific app for that.
  • Exactly. These people want a Google messaging app that iPhone users would download. It's not going to happen now, they are too late.
  • > ... only people with an iPhone or had an iPhone at one time to set up iMessage with a phone number can use it. This is not true. You can set up and use iMessage on any non-phone Apple device (iPad, iPod Touch and any kind of Mac, portable or otherwise). It will associate with your iCloud account and you can go ahead and communicate with any other iMessage user.
  • Even with Chat unless Apple gets onboard with RCS there is still going to be a big issue with texting between Android and iOS.
  • Yeah, that is an issue that this will not address at all. Not until carriers lean on Apple to stop relying on SMS, and by that point, iMessage will likely have plenty of other Apple-exclusive features that will offer current iOS users to remain with the platform.
  • I message an iPhone user, they get it. They message me as an android user, I get the message. No problems.
  • Do you get it if they send you a photo, video or a document?
  • I love you, Jerry.
  • Get your dirty mitts offa my man!
  • Over my dead body!
  • 😁😁😁 ur finished
  • Both of you get out of here before you get a whoopin. Jerry is mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!!!
  • 7nm soc this year and we still can't figure out a ubicquitous messaging system...
  • one word for them all "ego"
  • Bring it on.
  • ChatOn , talk, Wechat,WhatsApp, Viber, hangouts, etc.
    everyone cares about Dominance , some fall out of the struggle, and consumers still have to deal with it all....
    Google should leverage its widespread ecosystem globally sth 'apple doesn't have' !
  • SMS is the worst when it comes to any kind of the group messaging.
    One on one chat is also bad if you want to share longer text or text in different languages.
    That's why we need a major overhaul, so we as people can have a conversation no matter what phone we use and carrier.
  • Ultimately I think it's a little too late. If it becomes a standard it will be nice to have but the only people who ever send me anything through SMS anymore is my bank and Papa John's. I still think they should have played the long game with Hangouts.
  • What crawled up your ass and took a ****?
  • Thanks for the breakdown Jerry. Now here is the $10 question, does Signal have access to the end-to-end encrypted content you use over their service? Signal also requests a boatload of permissions. Many of which I understand, but still the nature of Android is to offset nearly all if not all machine learning, AI and user data gathering into the cloud as opposed to most but not all of Apple's solutions being done on local silicon. Again, I understand neither scenario is 100% either way, but I'm curious as to how Signal stacks up against iMessage on that front. The open source nature of Signal is also something of a double edged sword, right? On one hand if any buffoonery starts taking place, the community should be able to recognize that rather quickly, however the code is also there for anyone to see while iMessage's is not. Thanks dude!
  • Nope. There is no single key that can decrypt a message on Signal. It needs the senders key, the receiving parties key, a group key if it is a group message, and a hash from the server.
  • iMessage > whatever Google has done/prob will be doing
  • I just want it to support Google Voice. GV has been my primary number for years, and it's been great. I don't to have to give it up, because they phase out Hangouts or choose not to support it any longer.
  • My carrier here in Malaysia, Celcom, adopt RCS. So now I've been bombarded with a much more elaborated advertisement from the carrier. Good job Google...
  • Exactly why RCS is bad lol, Signal is great, its just hard to get people to use it. I need to prep a debate everytime
  • I don’t understand why Google just doesn’t do it the Apple does. Set up the servers, build a Gmesaage client and bake it in into every android phone. It should use your google account and fall back to sms when someone doesn’t have it. Then, make it available on the Apple App Store. I don’t get what is so complicated.
  • I think the role of the MNOs is to provide the mobile dump pipe. In a few years all people will be 'always on'. The success of SMS was that it was dumb. RCS seems to brake with this. I'm not sure this makes sense.
  • Who cares.... None of this stuff matters
  • Well said! ☺️
  • Ultimately Carriers will sunset their older networks and combine all of that spectrum into their data signal and outdated tech like SMS will need to be thrown away anyways. They will need to upgrade to something that can run on LTE with text, images, and video. RCS is an inevitability and we might as well just get it all set up now so we don't have to worry about it later. For the people concerned with security I think I remember reading somewhere that encryption wasn't an option because some legality or compliance issue? I could be wrong so don't quote me on that. If you truly want end to end encryption then a third party software like Whatsapp or signal is probably a better option anyways.
  • I think the MNOs should concentrate on implementing "the dump pipe" efficiently just as ISPs do. The success of SMS was primarily 1) you could enforce delivery of a message, 2) it was a chunk of 160 characters of plain text, 3) the MNOs could (over)charge the service. Only 1) is relevant today. If the MNOs tries to charge for RCS just as they did with SMS I think it is DOA, but enforcing delivery is sometimes valueable. I consider RCS as a 'last resort' exchange mechanism between peers that normally do not exchange data or do not share the same app/cloud service. For those that already share apps/cloud/community, encryption is already in place, and the services are alive and kicking.
  • Who the hell still uses SMS and why?
  • So what else are we suppose to use that everyone will have?
  • I do. It's easy and right there. So why not?
  • The people I care to talk to often use Allo thankfully and that's a small handful of people. I do with it would have taken off with more popularity though. I am looking forward to this RCS taking over though and becoming more common place.
  • « iMessage is not encrypted when chatting with or calling the vast majority of smartphone users in the world » We don’t talk with the vast majority of smartphones users, sometimes our circle of friends have both! And when we both use iMessage it’s one of the best way to communicate... you conveniently forgot that imessage are also on ipad and macs.
  • That doesn’t make all the tweets wrong, you just burried the fact that it’s not encrypted and itns just sms 2.0 behind a blind Google defense