Google finally took RCS messaging worldwide but it's too little, too late

Chat features in Google Messages
Chat features in Google Messages (Image credit: Android Central)

The long battle over messaging is finally over now that Google has incorporated RCS across the entire globe and is pushing out encryption features as I type. Not really; the battle for universal messaging was over long ago and Google just now got to the playing field.

Here's what's happening in case you didn't catch it: Google has finished making RCS chat features available in its Messages app in every country that it can be made available (it's never coming to a few countries like China or Russia) and it's slowly pushing out end-to-end encryption for users who opt-in for Google's Chat features.

That means Android users can enjoy rich messaging as long as they use the Messages app and the other party is also using the Messages app. In theory. The fine print reads that it works through Google's Jibe service unless your carrier supports the RCS Universal profile. Since RCS is a giant jumbo-sized clusterfudge, it often doesn't work as expected. Ask someone who uses AT&T, for example.

Anyway, this has finally fixed messaging for everyone across the planet. Except no, it hasn't, and Google can't do anything to make that happen no matter how hard it tries.

The elephant in the room is, of course, Apple and its iMessage service. Since about half of people in North America use an iPhone, until Apple supports an RCS fallback when one party isn't using iMessage, no measurable difference happens.

To be fair, iMessage is really good. Too bad you have to put up with iOS to use it.

Right now Apple does use iMessage for SMS, but it hasn't announced any change following the news that RCS is actually a thing. And it probably never will because iMessage is a good feature that Apple uses to lock you into its ecosystem. Android Police did a great job explaining this mess and you should probably go read it.

On the other hand, even the elephant that is Apple and iMessage doesn't really matter in the long run because nobody uses carrier-based messaging in any significant numbers. That ship sailed a long time ago and it's never coming back to the port.

Statista Chat Platform Numbers

Source: Statista (Image credit: Source: Statista)

A quick look at the graphic above from Statista shows the real big picture. The public has spoken and decided that Facebook is the company we all want to handle our messaging. If that makes you sad, just know you're not alone.

A lot of people in North America with free unlimited SMS still use an app like WhatsApp for "texting".

In all seriousness, this phenomenon started long before Facebook bought WhatsApp. You're probably reading this from a couch or other suitably plush seating inside North America where you get screwed on data prices but get all the SMS messages you care to send through your carrier. In many parts of the world — and inside North America just a few years ago — unlimited SMS is not a thing.

SMS is a really great service because it's 100% interoperable no matter what sort of cell phone a person is using. Your expensive Android flagship phone can send and receive SMS messages. That friend you have with an iPhone 8 that has a cracked screen can also send and receive SMS messages. Your crazy uncle who thinks windmills cause cancer and uses a flip phone from 1996 can also send and receive SMS messages. It's extremely important to have a universal way to message anyone, anywhere.

But most of us can look through our text history and see that we send a whole lot of messages each and every month and if it weren't free, we wouldn't be doing it. That's why SMS and RCS is really only a thing in North America. It's hard to have an all-night text-a-thon if it costs you 5-cents every time you hit send. This is why WhatsApp wins — if you're on Wi-Fi, you can think of WhatsApp as 100% unlimited and free.

WhatsApp

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Of course, Google did have this figured out a while back. Hangouts was a rich chat service that worked for anyone who downloaded the app and was able to resort to using SMS if you tried to chat it up with someone who didn't install it. But of course, Google wasn't satisfied with a solution that worked and burned everything to the ground with a crazy and fun-filled stretch of messenger clients that weren't ever going to become successful.

Hangouts did everything Google seemingly wants. Maybe it should have been polished up instead of sent out to pasture.

Hangouts needed a lot of love in the user interface department, that is true. The options could be confusing to first-time users, and nobody should deny that. But the service itself worked as a universal worldwide rich messenger that was 100% free. If it were still around for everyone, was easy to use and understand, and had encryption added it would be the iMessage for Android so many people seem to be wanting.

Don't get me wrong, I think a mostly universal rollout of RCS inside Google Messages is great and the addition of an encryption option makes it even better. But that's because I don't use WhatsApp or Snapchat or QQ (what in tarnation is QQ? (opens in new tab)) and just send text messages like a dinosaur that has free unlimited texts. The addition of encryption means I might consider using Messages as my default instead of using Signal, too.

But in the big picture, this is all too little, too late, and doesn't really help anything. Unless Google can find a way to get everyone around the world to switch away from WhatsApp or Telegram or whatever app they use now and start using Messages, Google can't win here. Maybe Google doesn't even deserve to win here.

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.

49 Comments
  • I think most people who use their android device use the stock messaging apps (those not reading sites like this) and it will be great for them to get those options inside of the stock messaging app. I don't know 1 person who uses WhatsApp in the US (know lots who use snapchat/messenger though). Also this RCS standard wasn't even finalized 5 years ago. I mean by that logic we should have had 5G in 2010... Glad Google finally stood up to the carriers with this push out. Maybe apple will also add it into their iMessage as well sometime. 
  • Third paragraph of this article: "That means Android users can enjoy rich messaging as long as they use the Messages app and the other party is also using the Messages app. In theory. The fine print reads that it works through Google's Jibe service unless your carrier supports the RCS Universal profile. Since RCS is a giant jumbo-sized clusterfudge, it often doesn't work as expected. Ask someone who uses AT&T, for example."
  • Well, now we just have to pray Google doesn't abandon RCS if adoption doesn't pick up.
    Been there before
  • RCS is a protocol not an App. The agreement was with global carriers, not just making their own app support RCS. They'd piss off a lot of carriers if they dropped it.
  • Perhaps you should get a passport and leave the US for a it then ;). You'd see it everywhere. Every Latin American country I visited it was everywhere. As the article points out, despite being America, it's America (and Canada) where adoption is lower. The point of the article is this is too late, whoever was to blame. As points out this will only likely be used in North America. It's been in The UK for months but no one I've spoken to was bothered to check it was enabled because they barely ever send SMS's anyway. It's not been mentioned anywhere I've seen in UK media.
  • “A day late a dollar short” should be googles moto. They are always late to the party
  • Hangouts was awesome. I can't have PEDs at work but could log into gmail on my work machine to make/receive phone calls/texts through my personal number. Messages has a web client but you need to scan the QR code with your phone. I can't have PEDs at work. What's the point of the web client if you still need your phone to set it up?
  • "What's the point of the web client if you still need your phone to set it up?" Because you can use it after setting it up. For people in situations like yours, sure that sucks. But most people are able to use their phone near their computer at least once to set it up. I set it up on my computer a couple years ago and haven't needed to use my phone near my computer since then for messaging.
  • Yes, I know. I'm just still very frustrated years later. They should have options like using your backup codes. Security is great, but not at the expense of feature access for those willing to accept the trade-off.
  • You don't need your phone near your computer once you've scanned the code. It connects over the web.
  • I was surprised how many people I know used the stock message app. I switched from Textra to use message. I noticed that I can see them typing so, I knew they had to be using message. I like it but I would like two features from Textra like, timed and delayed messages.
  • 1000x this. I've been using Textra for years. I love the customization but the two features that keep me coming back are the two you mentioned. If Google ever opens up RCS for 3rd party apps, I'd be set.
  • Aren't those features in the process of rolling out right now?
  • Not as far as I know? RCS is still locked to Google + OEM Messaging apps, not third party apps. Google still hasn't added Scheduled Texts (or delayed texts), despite being one of the highest requests. It's why I've not switched to Google Messages, that and contrary to common reports Samsung Messages RCS works with Google Messages, across carriers too.
  • Sms with Textra is all I need. I do keep Fb msngr lite for a couple people who dont seem to think they can communicate any other way. I've come full circle. I now like phone calls again. You can say a lot in a 2 min call. It's fast and easy. Avoids all that typing. Plus it's free and unlimited. Ok maybe not free but included in virtually all plans.
  • I use android messages, why would anyone in US need to use whatsapp for day to day text. Everyone has to have it. I can see international since get charged for text but not here.
  • A lot of my relatives use Hangouts. It's great. Google should improve Hangouts instead of getting rid of it. Google is lost.
  • Google is and will continue to be lost. It's amazing how such a technologically advantaged company can be so lame in many areas.
  • being in tbe US, I use Google Voice for texting. Everyone is on Facebook, so i use Facebook Messenger for most of my messaging- I've even gotten answers to my questions through Facebook Messenger from the California Highway Patrol, and London Heathrow Airport.
  • Yeah Messenger is good for contacting companies. Google Voice has only ever been available in The USA, not even Canada, let alone elsewhere :(.
  • For everyone in the US, I use SMS through Google Message. A long, long time ago I used 3rd party SMS/MMS clients, but the increased security concerns of them (just look at recent news about them!) make me glad I standardized on the Google Message app. And now, I'm getting RCS "Chat" with several more of my friends and family members on it. The only time I use anything else are for my friends in other countries (WeChat for China, Whatsapp for Europe).
  • You don't have friends/family on WhatsApp to save one switch? Fair enough.
  • Sticking with Signal.
  • I'm often amazed how loosely and inaccurately words like "nobody" ,"everyone", "never", "anyone" and "always" are used - both by authors here and those who. comment on their articles written. In my country iPhones are RARE, I've NEVER been on Facebook and WhatsApp is EXTREMELY popular in my country due to the networks not providing MMS-like services and charging for SMS.
  • It's called hyperbole. It's not meant to be taken literally. You yourself did it when you used the word "amazed". I doubt that you are actually amazed, or even much surprised.
  • Then this whole article is hyperbole. I can't take this article seriously at all.
    Ppl bashed Google for not having RCS encryption, "oh no, we all text and it's not secure!"
    Now it's, "nobody texts so who cares if it's secure?" FWIW, yes iMessage is great for those I'm USA who have one. But we're on Android central, so we don't use it. Stop glorifying apple; we'd use it if we preferred.
  • Since I never once mentioned Apple I'm assuming you slipped into a generalized rant there at the end.
  • iMessaage is not even encrypted. They backed off it when the FBI threatened them with litigation.
  • The article is crap. Stop defending it. saying Nobody uses stock messaging apps is just bullsh#t.
  • The article doesn't say this. Most people use the stock SMS app. The article is saying RCS is late as most people have standardised on WhatsAppp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage or WeChat.
  • You're not missing out not having MMS. It's *** terrible. In The UK most networks charge 50p a message. So people have always avoided it like the plague. It also usually fails if the recipient isn't on the same make of phone or carrier. You get a dumbass link to take you to a site just to view a picture MMS is atrocious.
  • I'm on AT&T and have had no issues with RCS.
  • Yup... and the last paragraph of this article perfectly sums it all up: "But in the big picture, this is all too little, too late, and doesn't really help anything. Unless Google can find a way to get everyone around the world to switch away from WhatsApp or Telegram or whatever app they use now and start using Messages, Google can't win here. Maybe Google doesn't even deserve to win here." The ship has sailed... Google's strategy in the messaging space has been completely perplexing. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day, and seemed that every time Google was possibly on the right path, they would purposely sabotage it.
  • What a complete crap article. Most people do use the stock messaging app. What's App? I work in phone tech support role and nobody I talk too uses what's app. Not to mention you talk about iMessage which is not even encrypted. That's the whole point of the update to messages. Messages for web works terrific on any chrome browser. Saying most people don't use stock messaging app is absolutely incorrect. One of the worst opinion articles android central has wrote.
  • you should quit your job. you lied on the application. "iMessage which is not even encrypted"
    yes it is. end to end. fully encrypted. always has been. since day one.
    it's not encrypted when you text from iPhone to android because guess what, it's not using iMessage anymore...
  • The article is talking globally, not just your part of the world. WhatsApp is everywhere. 2 billion people in fact.
  • It's been clear to me RCS is only a thing in North America where SMS is still heavily used and no single Instant Messaging app has taken hold. All over Central and South America, Europe Asia WhatsApp dominates. Whenever I've been to these regions I don't even ask if someone has WhatsApp because they will.
  • RCS has no VOIP feature at all. This is a major problem when phone signal still isn't what it should be even in Western markets and when you're abroad being able to WhatsApp call is a godsend. I guess I'm supposed to Duo call but no one uses that.
  • The article is wrong you don't have to use Google's Messaging app. I use Samsung Messages to a friend who uses Google Messages. RCS works fine.
  • This functionality does NOT happen with every carrier.
  • The argument Apple aren't supporting RCS as it locks you into iMessage makes little sense. If they supported RCS and you stopped using an iPhone you'd still lose iMessage. Adding iMessage would just mean iPhone users experience a modem experience whoever they message. It's not been added as Apple doesn't see enough of a benefit.
  • "That's why SMS and RCS is really only a thing in North America" Nope. The UK has the same expensive Data but Unlimited SMS plans you do. People still ditched SMS in their droves. Half of Americans owning iMessage doesn't make much sense as an argument because the other half presumably is Samsung. Where se least outside of North America aren't using SMS.
  • "and had encryption added it would be the iMessage for Android so many people seem to be wanting." Again nope. Hangouts was never front and centre on Android and had a name that isn't obviously a messaging app. Google would've still had to convince Samsung to ditch their messaging app and give it a clearer name. These are why it was always going to fail. Its late but the current approach at least has a chance of being used by more than 2 people.
  • I don't think it's too late, and I'm glad they're implementing E2E also. On my Galaxy Note9 and Pixel 4XL, I use WhatsApp to chat with friends overseas, but to text in the U.S, I use Signal. I have been able to get most of my family members to use Signal. I even took the liberty of setting Signal as the default texting app for family members who aren't tech savvy. Unfortunately, I cannot do the same with friends (I don't think they'll give me their phones 😆), so I have to revert to unencrypted messages with them. If Google is able to pull this off, and Apple signs off on it (I use an iOS device sometimes), it will be a win-win for me. I won't need to convince anyone to download additional apps, and when I'm not using iMessage on my Xs, at least I know my fall back is also encrypted.
  • AC staff meeting: "Okay everyone, brain storm session... How can we make our site even worse than it has been since Phil left?" Jerry: "Oooo I know... Let's write more terribly ill-informed rants and opinion pieces about whatever we can think of, with little to no research or logic behind most of the writing, and publish it immediately with minimal to no editing/proofing!" "OUTSTANDING! Take it away, Jerry... Show em how it's done champ!" Jerry: "You can count on me, boss"
  • I used to like Jerry’s articles but now they are just him whining constantly
  • I think you guys are being a bit harsh. Jerry is just lamenting that Google was way to late to introduce a, sort of, universal messaging solution. God forbid someone should speak ill of Android, but what he saying is 100% true. google had years to find a solution to compete with iMessage and they dithered. Now, the cat is out of the bag. We are talking shear numbers here, not just what your personal preference is. The masses have spoken.
  • I just don't see what the big deal is about RCS in the first place! Are we really that concerned if our texts are encrypted? What in the world are people saying in their texts that is Soooooo sensitive/secret that nobody but the intended recipient should be able to read it? Is telling your significant other to pick up milk a national security threat? Anything more important than that should NOT be sent using any texting service! Or maybe we just like it when we can "possibly" see the other person typing in real time as they reply to us? OK, great! But still not very important! If something is so important that it needs an instant response why not actually make a phone call on your PHONE?
  • People don't want to make phone calls, they'd rather have another excuse to stare at their phones like zombies.