Google evolving Android Messages with new 'Chat' RCS features, will pause Allo development

Stop me if you've heard this before: Google has a plan to launch an enhanced messaging system. Right, it's done this what feels like a dozen times before — but the reality is it's been like half a dozen, and that's still bad. Google Talk, Google Voice, Google+ Huddles, Hangouts, Allo ... yeah, not a set of successes right there. The latest attempt, coming to light in a great report from The Verge, is a new system simply called "Chat" that will be built into the Android Messages app by the end of the year. And thankfully, this isn't following the same playbook as previous attempts.

The short version is that Allo, launched just two years ago, is having its development halted indefinitely — and the entire team that's been evolving that standalone chat app will be moving to work on Android Messages (opens in new tab). Yes that's Google's default SMS app — but once you see what's going on here it makes a whole lot of sense. We've already seen trickles of this move, with little additions like Allo's Smart Replies arriving in Messages, but now it's going all in.

In the coming months, and for sure by the end of the year, Google will build out a comprehensive set of advanced messaging features — if not fully duplicating Allo — in the Android Messages app. It's not a new app, or a new mode inside the app — it's just a new set of features that you'd expect in a modern messaging app. Things like easy-to-manage groups, high-resolution media, read receipts, typing indicators and more. It will be available to anyone who installs the app (with one caveat of carrier support), regardless of what company made your Android Phone, including the hundreds of millions of people who will have it loaded on their phone by default.

Chat isn't a new app, it's a brand new set of features in Android Messages.

Seeing Chat in Android Messages succeed where Google has failed so many times all hinges on this new standard called RCS, or Rich Communication Services. You've heard us talk a lot about it, though in fits and starts as various carriers and phone makers got on board. RCS, as the name implies, is a standard for providing rich chat services not unlike Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or WeChat or any of the dozens of other super-popular over-the-top chat services. The difference is that RCS is built on SMS, and designed to effectively replace it, so it's backwards-compatible with the legacy SMS/MMS system we know today. That means that these new "rich" communications will happen right in your regular SMS app, using your phone number as a profile identifier, and if you send a message to someone who doesn't have RCS it'll just come through as a regular SMS. It also makes sending Chat messages simple and easy, because it's tied to your phone number without any sort of additional sign-up or management required — it's just like sending a text message today.

But that compatibility with SMS cuts both ways: in order for RCS to work, you need the carriers of all people involved in the chat to support it and be using phones that support it. Carriers like T-Mobile got on board early, but bigger names like Verizon straggled. Google now has over 50 carriers on board worldwide, plus lots of big names like Samsung and Huawei committing to including RCS compatibility on their phones (Samsung ships its own SMS app called Messages). That last part is important, because it drives home one of the biggest strengths of this new Chat standard: this isn't tied to a Google app or a specific Google service, it's just a roundup of features that are part of the new RCS standard that any phone maker can implement in their own app. Android Messages, being from Google and installed on millions of phones as their default SMS app, will simply be the flagship example of using Chat features.

You get all of the messaging features you expect, but in an app everyone already has.

Like iMessage and WhatsApp, there will also be a desktop component to the new Chat features in Android Messages. Using a QR code (again, similar to WhatsApp) to authenticate, users will see a mirrored version of Chat on the web. But you use Hangouts, you claim. What's happening there? Hangouts has been in the process of being converted into an enterprise service to compete with the likes of Slack, but with the announcement of Chat, it sounds like Hangouts for personal use will eventually be wound down.

The new Chat team is being run by a familiar face: Anil Sabharwal. His team led the launch of Google Photos, which is arguably Google's most important recent product and one that's widely liked from smartphone nerds down to average users. With Sabharwal taking the lead and a whole bunch of people working with him that made a great app in Allo, this really has legs. Getting dozens of carriers and key Android manufacturers on board took a lot of work, but now explaining exactly what Chat is and how it works to everyone as the feature rolls out is the next hurdle.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

118 Comments
  • I read this and started laughing, messaging on android has gotten completely ridiculous. It's like Google is trying to become the joke that everyone makes of it. None of the chat apps google makes are actually bad. But it's like a restaurant cooking your meal but every ingredient is in a different part of the city and no one actually talks to each other when they prep it, or listen to the customer. No mayo means extra mayo. If and when this works, it will be welcome. Does anyone else now double tap the spacebar on their laptop when they want to enter a period? They should make that an option.
  • More like there's this restaurant, and it makes really good and healthy and inexpensive food, but you can't convince anyone to eat there with you because the restaurant burns down every six months and reopens with a new name and totally different menu.
  • That is a very apt description of it.
  • Google as an arsonist, great analogy!! :-) Agree. Maybe this is the last time they actually burn it down, and actually pour it into one app that will rule them all (at least on Android). Maybe they have finally figured it out.
  • This. So much this! Too much this...
  • Um yah this.
  • That is so funny
  • Also all the ingredients have to be bright white... White rice, white bread, skinless chicken breast, mashed potatoes, mayonnaise... This is me jumping on your analogy to complain about theme support lol.
  • It's not just white either. They somehow found the exact hue of white that destroys your retinas if you're in any kind of not well lit area.
  • Cough, dark mode or night theme...
  • Great now gotta tell my family to uninstall Allo.
  • The smart move would be Google doing that for you. Making it seamless.
  • Heh im not that much of a betting man.
  • Exactly. Just as I've got all the iPhone users to install it😑
  • Is the list of over 50 carriers that support RCS available anywhere?
  • As far as I can tell, the 50+ figure that is frequently mentioned refers to carriers who have COMMITTED to supporting Universal RCS, and not carriers who currently support it. Note that AT&T and Verizon are on the list of carriers, and neither of them have given any kind of indication of a time table for adopting it. https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/rcs/universal-profile/
  • Kind of figured that, thanks. Good link also, tons of info....
  • Interesting, didn't know AT&T was going to support the standard. They already have their version of RCS running, but only works with select phones, select software (Android Messages is NOT one of them) and only between AT&T subscribers.
  • The article you linked about Huawai says they will ship phones with Android messages included, not that hey will be adding RCS to their own app...
  • I'll believe it when it finally happens. Stopped installing any of their new apps since they had lot of limitations.
  • I'll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I'll stick with Textra.
  • I think there's a big misunderstanding amongst the community. Saying that Google "failed" many times at RCS is wrong and irresponsible. Google failed at nothing. What Google does is test the waters with different services, gauge if there's a demand for it, take what they learn, and adapt that into another service. They then take these ideas and morph them into a final product after a large amount of R&D. For example, Google Now was used for the longest time to collect data and test their speech synthesis until it was time to evolve it into the now Google Assistant. Google learns and adapts to new changes with every new iteration of software - that's what Google does. They are a software company, after all. I mean, would you shift an entire messaging system without testing the waters in hopes that someone will use it? They need to know if it would be a viable solution before going all in for a final service or product. Otherwise - what's the point? Sounds like Google is approaching the final stage and will be taking everything they developed and learned and will be baking those into the final service.
  • In the meantime, the customer is the one that suffers while this supposed "test" continues. Sorry, but that is a fail.
  • Don't be so dramatic... no one is suffering here. You realize no one is forcing you to use SMS, right? It's decades-old technology, therefore, most people use a messenger in the meantime. There are so many messaging clients to fill the gap until RCS becomes the new "texting" standard. I highly doubt anyone is suffering due to lack of messaging clients, that's just being ridiculous. Evolving technology is never a fail - at some point in time, we just have to wait it out while technology advances. Chill...
  • That's the entire point of the article though, there are many messaging clients and it's a shame the third party ones are cleaner and more useful than any of Google's attempts. And for as much money as these phones cost, I don't think I'm being dramatic at all. Google sucks at this, and even their biggest fans admit this. If they finally get it right, that's awesome, but for now...imo they fail.
  • We are all entitled to feel however we want. I'll say this though: You try and unify an entire messaging system we've used for 20+ years and see how that works out for you. There's a lot of R&D and a wide variety of variables to consider. If anyone can pull it off, it would be Google themselves. I don't know how making technology better is a bad thing? Takes time my friend. Takes time.
  • Sure it takes time. But that's not my concern or problem. It's Google's. And I'm sorry, they don't get a pass because they are in the process of something. No company does (ask Samsung about Bixby). You are judged on what you present today. Especially if you expect customers to pay top dollar for it
  • What’s funny is that iMessage has been the defacto message client for years that everyone, including google has been trying to copy. iMessage hasn’t changed much in 10 years except for added functionality. Google on the other hand, has been testing its apps using the user as a test platform to further a better product. I get that though. How else are they to get something right that works? But making multiple apps, that basically do the same thing, get people to use it, then kill it to make people switch again is asinine.
  • Doesn't Google direct the platform though? It's not like HTC developed Nougat and Samsung developed Marshmallow. ALL core OS functions and services are dictated by Google. All they need to do is notify carriers this is the new way. Either the carrier follows along or likely will face higher churn. I am so tired of ppl acting like Google has like ZERO clout to push a standard or universal feature.
  • No real need to "test waters" when Apple pretty much has proved that messaging when you don't have a cellular connection but also supporting SMS/MMS i.e. green folks and blue folks .. is exactly what people want. If they would have added SMS/MMS support to Allo it would have been a mega hit but no they had to do Allo AND Android Messages.
    It's fairly simple ... no machine learning needed. ;)
  • This, I agree with.
  • There are a billion+ devices that are at stake here. Android has 85%+ worldwide mobile market share and is actually the most used OS today. With numbers like that it's not going to be as easy as you might think. Not to mention, the number of Android smartphone vendors is quite expansive too. Everyone has to agree, cooperate, and be on board with the whole RCS platform for it to work worldwide. Google is looking to unite the smartphone world (not just the US) with a universal messaging system. That's a big step forward. Google is the reason why Android is around so let them do their thing by pushing the industry forward. I'd like to see you make something happen that affects 85%+ of the worldwide mobile market. Not so easy now is it? These things take time - one step at a time, baby steps. Again - just use a messenger client like we've all been doing for years until RCS becomes a final and viable product in the near future. It's just that easy!
  • I have to agree with this. Google is trying to balance bettering a product that they know has been flawed and just plain moving on. They could have easily just created a new app with the updated abilities and alienated the carriers, which would have been bad for Android and volume. It is open source, so it must continue to act like it. Instead they chose to involve the carriers and give them the option to get on board and figure out how to evolve with messaging because SMS is a dinosaur. People want RCS/stickers/Gif/emoji/typing indicators/read receipts/messaging on wifi etc and Android wants its own blue bubble. It may take the rest of the year like is mentioned in the article but the carriers will do it. The other question is when will Apple agree to this?
  • This. This. This.
  • Most insecure PHONE OS, there fixed it
  • No, Allo would only have been a massive hit if it did everything you just said, AND was included with all Android phones as the default messaging app. iMessage isn't as popular as it is with Apple users just because it's great, but also because it's right there when you open the box and set the phone up. Doing that would piss off OEMs everywhere, and Google couldn't get away with that in the EU due to antitrust concerns. Apple doesn't have either of those problems due to being its own OEM and not having the European market share to bring down the EU hammer.
  • I use SMS a lot, I know a couple of people who do even have a smart phone so it is either chat or SMS. The thing with SMS it is easy and quick and the message can get through even if the signal is naff as long as it have a big of a signal. Messaging software like facebook messenger don't always work in low signal areas. SMS is great for messages like i am on my way, put the kettle on, other messaging systems, are a pain, because there are so many functions to go through that is not needed. I have facebook messenger on my phone and a SMS app that came with my phone which is a Huawai and I have no intention of putting any messaging app on it.
    As for RCS, I doubt my network provider will support it for a while.
  • Decades old technology. Like cellular phones. Which you still use....
  • So they made *universal* Google Now into *7 countries* Google Assistant... sounds like burning down the house. The whole messaging issue is clear to *everyone*. Google has failed year after year to make iMessage on Android. They could have implemented it in less than 12 months any year the last almsot ten years, but haven't. They've launched one platform after another and missed the most important point of all: User base! Meanwhile, WhatsApp, Facebook Messanger and iMessage all have hundreds of millions of users each and Allo has 10? Useless strategy. Hopfully this means they will now *merge* all Hangouts users, Allo users into Chat. They need to!
  • Please let this be the one that works Google!
  • Hopefully the carriers will get their collective thumb out of their behinds and get with a workable standard with RCS. No futtzing around with a particular flavor of the standard that enhances them. Well I can dream.
  • Yeah.. I'm with some of the other posters and I'll believe it when I see it... We've been down this road so many times, at this point cynicism is just rabid.
  • This is great! Until next year when we find out that messages is the one being phased out and they're starting over AGAIN. At this point, I don't care anymore.
  • It's not easy shifting from decades old technology of SMS/MMS and making RCS the new standard. You have to bear with them while they continue testing, creating, and developing. We have smartphones, but dumb messages. RCS is going to change that but it won't happen overnight. Adaption, carrier support, etc. makes it challenging to drop SMS immediately.
  • But SMS will not be dropped, it will still work beside RCS if RCS does become something. Still a lot of phones out there that will never support RCS.
  • You are correct in the sense that SMS will not be dropped anytime soon. But the carriers WILL drop it at some point.
  • But it will be years, they have to stop producing phones first that only do SMS, unless they find some way for those phones to hook onto the RCS system somehow. A mates wife got an alcatel one touch a couple of months ago, just a normal mobile phone with a keypad, no camera, no internet connection, it does have an FM radio, but it only cost £15. i know these phones are not the norm these days, but I am surprised at how manmyh people I know that still have these type of phones.
    I must admit, I did have second thoughts about getting another smart phone when my Nexus 4 gave up.
  • The problem with the iMessage competitor on Android is that it's impossible. IMessage is successful due to Apple having absolute control over each and every iPhone. Google, although won't struggle with replicating the technology, will struggle to make it a direct iMessage competitor because Samsung will release their own, then LG, then Huawei or whomever else wants to join the fun. Praying I'm wrong, however.
  • Well, don't forget Google took a little more control over Android vendors recently. They must comply with the following rules: Core Google Apps must be preinstalled on their devices if they want Google Play Services (Android Messages is the default messenger), and the boot splash screen needs to say "Powered By Android." That's an audience of over hundreds of millions to a billion+ of devices that will be supported for RCS, which is massive. No small feat!
  • Interesting. I think the branding of this application will be key. I mean I don't think they can call it GMessage can they? Lol. Or maybe they can. They already have Gboard.
  • That explains why my phone comes up with powered with Android. Android messenger is not the defualt on my phone and is not installed on it either.
  • Not entirely true...Samsung phones are Powered by Android. Android Messages is NOT the default messaging app, nor is it installed. Samsung Messages is the default SMS/Messages app. Which also support RCS, provided your carrier support it. I can say it is supported on AT&T between AT&T subscribers only, who also are using Samsung Messages.
  • Lol, bring it on. Looks like that seemingly impossible SMS fallback is now included, go figure. Stickers incoming! 😂
  • Or they could of just bought What'sapp and have it pre-installed on every Android device, but no. Google loves to create and then abandon projects. And here we are now. Google trying to compete with something like iMesage that was ready out the door. Then you wonder why so many ppl love Apple 🤷‍♂️
  • Whats app would be the first I would would uninstall if it was installed on my phone,
  • I tried Android Messages a few months ago and I found it crude, if not awful... Samsung messages was far superior. But... Downloaded Android Messages tonight and... Wow, it is now much cleaner... And I'll use it. Good progress so far. lol... The Pixel pushing "pure Android experience OS" nonsense bloggers here at AC will celebrate... I took a step to the dark side with the much improved Android Messages.
  • I've also tried going back to Android Messages but the lack of customization options irked me. Can't even change the background. Can't schedule texts. Can't create custom colors for certain Contacts. Hopefully this will change, and it sounds like it will. For now, I'll stick to the Samsung Messenger app which even appears to support RCS (I see other people "typing"... If that's what that means).
  • You can create custom color for contacts in Android Messages.
  • People could use Facebook Messenger... I never would give it SMS permissions.... but that is a popular data based solution for many.
  • If Google does this right, we could finally have an "iMessage" solution. Full resolution video and image sharing. Say what you will but no one integrates data messaging better or more effortlessly than Apple. I'm pretty excited about this.
  • My android "imessage" solution has been to use Signal as my default SMS + messenger solution. Simple, cross-platform, secure, no ads, no metadata etc..
  • I'm pretty sure the useless crappy carriers will find a way to screw up just how they screw up OEM devices that bend over to them. Google has great ideas and awesome team but have to play ball with crappy incompetent carriers who only know to screw up customers.
  • Meanwhile WhatsApp just keeps racing further and further into the distance as Google keeps tripping up on the starting line
  • a few people have asked me to install Whatsapp, but I refuse, my main problem with it apart from the fact I do not need another messaging software on my phone is that it need my phone number.
  • Who cares that WhatsApp requires your phone number? WhatsApp has end to end encryption... Android Messages even after it moves from SMS to RCS will be subject to all gov't requests and not encrypted.
  • You're assuming that Facebook can't turn off end-to-end encryption on a WhatsApp account if they're ordered to do so. They're a U.S. company and therefore subject to such demands. Granted, they could have designed WhatsApp so this isn't possible, but, considering this is Facebook, do you have confidence that they did?
  • I don't use WhatsApp anymore because I don't need it. Privacy online? There is no such thing. But I didn't understand the objection to a phone number. Most people have nothing to hide or fear other than financial security online.... so whatever... unrelated...
    I laugh thst people think a vpn will improve their privacy... but a vpn can be valuable for other reasons.
  • Who cares? I do for a start and that is important at the end of the day. For a start If i want to say something to someone that is so important i would not say it via any messaging service, i would meet them in person and if i can't do that, then I would send the info via encrypted email.
  • I can't stand WhatsApp simply because it doesn't all phone calls to be disabled EVER and it doesn't respect Do Not Disturb for calls. But I have to use the damn thing because many of my clients use it.
  • Yup.
    Even iOS users around the world fall back to WhatsApp most of the time.
    But hey, Google likes to waste money on pointless endeavours... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • I'm not a 13 year old girl, so why would I want that app?
  • Neither am I (40yr old man) or my 64yr old mum, or any of my family and friends or work colleagues for that matter. Your point is waaaaaaaaaaay off the mark
  • Now if they would only integrate Duo into the stock phone dialer to make it a seamless experience like it is in iOS.
  • Agreed
  • It's integrated in mine... I thought this happened already?
  • Depends on your device. If your OEM has built the function into its contacts/dialer app, then yeah. But not everyone has done that yet.
  • Video calling is standard using the Samsung Contacts App. Google's 'Android Contacts' app also will do video calling, but you also must download Google Duo for the Sndroid Contacts video chat option to work.
  • if Google could actually get all the carriers in the states to actually commit to rcs this would be great but it will never happen
  • Hahaha, it's not April 1st guys.
  • One service to rule them all? Maybe? Finally?
  • I'll just keep using Hangouts and Textra (and Facebook Messenger for family).
  • If they just focused on Hangouts, it already does this. Sends messages over data. They could have focused on one app and made it perfect. Hangouts was originally called "chat". Hangouts does videos calls also. Choosing another app is pointless. Whoever is in charge of Google's messaging division needs to be fired.
  • Can't agree enough, you are spot on IMHO.. Hangouts is brilliant from a features set, supporting multiple accounts simultaneously, group video and audio chats, VOIP, SMS and native hangouts text, and works on multiple devices and all platforms. All they needed is to polish the interface and add few tweeks, add Google Assistant support ..etc. any other offering will almost certainly lack some of it's features, like Duo's lack of group video/audio conferencing, and event the new Business Chat app lacks multiple accounts supports or Allo / SMS that doesn't work natively on the cloud on any device. I often want to reply from my desktop or tablet, can't do that with Allo or a native SMS app.
  • Nice! It is about time to get yet another messaging app!!
  • Sorry to rain on your parade but this article has nothing to do with a new messaging app.
  • As if we do not have enough already.
  • Be done with it and just throw money at Apple to licence iMessage on Android. You can't beat them so just join them.
  • That's not an option. Blame Apple. Apple won't license iMessage because it is one of Apple's lock-in methods to keep people in their ecosystem and buying their hardware. They want people to buy iPhones and Macs. If iMessage was available on other platforms, people would have one less reason to stick with an iPhone when they see better phones available running Android. Unlike Google, Apple gets their revenue from hardware sales. So they tied their services to their hardware to force people to keep buying their hardware in order to continue using their services (and vice-versa). Google gets its revenue from selling tailored advertising slots. The anonymous data gathered from consumers using Google services is used by Google to provide advertisers with a service called AdSense. AdSense allows advertisers to get their ads in front of people that actually may want their products. Point being, Google doesn't rely on hardware sales. They rely on services to gather that data. They don't care if Samsung, LG, HTC, or even Apple provides the hardware vehicle to deliver those services, as long as a Google services are being used.
  • Inaccurate. For example:
    Apple Music is available on Android.
  • Inaccurate?? How so? Apple does get their revenue from hardware sales. Google does get it revenue from selling tailored ads. Apple Music would be considered an outlier, not a standard.
  • The *only* reason Apple Music is on Android is to drive subscriptions. Subscriptions = $$. Opening up iMessage to Android? No $$.
  • Not inaccurate at all. If Apple Music had ever looked like a service that would bring users in from other platforms, or make them think twice about switching from Apple to someone else, then there would not have been an Android app for Apple Music. That's not the case, though. iMessage and FaceTime are special. Those two apps are the only things keeping a TON of iOS users from buying Android devices. Those hooks are worth more to Apple than any money that Google could reasonably throw at them.