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It's 2021 and Google is still doing a bad job at explaining Google Messages

Pixel Google Messages Oops
Pixel Google Messages Oops (Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Google Messages is one of Google's most important Android apps. It's well designed, of course, as just about all Google apps are. It has a wealth of features that appeal to the early-mid 20s demographic. It's even available on every Android phone — well, all of the best Android phones anyway. It should be almost as ubiquitous as Gmail or iMessage. Yet, it's all but irrelevant in the messaging world, and for such an excellent service, that's a shame.

The reasons for Messages' failure to launch are manifold. When we talk about Google Messages and its features, it's easy for most readers of tech sites to understand why the app is the way that it is and why that is a very good thing. After all, following the development of RCS and Google's messaging journey over the years has been a narrative-driven adventure. The underdog that was Google was trying to break into the market with messaging app after messaging app, and it finally latched on a strategy that made sense. It would harness the power of the network effect and put its newest messaging service into an app most people already had, built into a framework most carriers would have to approve of. It was foolproof, in theory.

WhatsApp home page

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Unfortunately, the same network effect works against the adoption the app, as well. No matter how many bells and whistles a messaging app has, it's useless if it can't be used to communicate with half of its intended audience. If you're living in parts of Europe like the UK where the split can go as high 50/50 iPhone and Android, you're more likely to use a platform-agnostic messaging app to communicate. If you're in America, you're more likely to use iMessage — or just plain old SMS. Google's RCS-powered Chat features won't even pop up as an option because so many people already have iPhones. If you do have international friends or family members, the proliferation of local apps in regions where SMS is expensive will mean that again, Google Messages won't be a go-to option, and SMS-fallback will work against the app here for fee-conscious users.

It's all about the network effect

It does seem counter-intuitive for metrics to be Google's weakness here. When it comes to raw numbers, Google Messages has a larger potential audience than other messaging apps. Every Android user can use this feature. Every Android user should be able to use this app — and even if they can't message their iOS friends with RCS — there should be enough users on Android alone for this to take off as a viable alternative. It could all come down to Google's "troll-outs." Unlike Apple who releases features at once, Google tends to roll them out slowly over a long period of time.

This is a smart idea most of the time. As Jerry Hildenbrand explains, you need to make sure that most users can use this or that new feature without something fundamental going wrong. If something does break, having the ability to pause the rollout quickly means that users don't have to be left in the lurch. Unfortunately, there's also a side-effect. It means that apps or services relying on a large number of people buying into them to be useful aren't actually that useful when they launch.

Android Messages

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

If your friend Craig can use the Google Chat in Messages, but Alice can't, you're more likely to use a third-party app instead. If Alice can, but only on Tuesdays because the server rolled it out once and then rolled it back, and Craig got it once, and then it vanished after a week when Alice changed sim-cards so then only Brenda can use it, it'll be quickly ruled out as an option. By the time the rollout is stabilized over one or two years, Google Messages wouldn't be considered an option as many people would already have actively decided against using it.

This also hamstrings Google's "messaging" about Messages. The company can't very well advertise a cool new Android feature when not everyone has it, so it misses out on its chance to tout these new features while they're still new and most interesting. Complicating that with the fact that Google Messages has already existed as an app that's a known quantity as a simple, plain, SMS app, and it's a perfect storm for irrelevance.

Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram logos on Android phones

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

That's not to say that there is an unbreakable stalemate in the messaging app world. Look at Signal and Telegram. Both flew under the radar in relative obscurity. But fast iteration and a dedicated userbase pushed their apps steadily forward. Now Telegram boasts around 500 million daily active users, and Signal has marked itself out as a tool that's used by everyone who wants secure messaging.

Were Google better prepared with its messaging around the Messages app, it would have pounced on the credibility gap left by WhatsApp that these other two companies benefited from. Think Facebook is prying into your messages? Highlight end-to-end encryption so it can guarantee that your messages are safe. Oh, Google also integrates with Bitmoji. Isn't that fun, fellow kids? Oh, do you like Duo? There's easy access to the video calling app there. It works well with the Samsung Galaxy S21, and you won't even notice a difference from Samsung's old app. You don't even need to download another messaging app like WhatsApp; just pick it up and go. The company was delivered the perfect moment to list its selling points over Facebook's messaging apps. Rather than drop the ball, it just let it roll by.

Google wasted a perfect chance to steal users from WhatsApp.

It's worth noting Signal and Telegram are more like WhatsApp and Allo than they are Google Messages and iMessage. Yet, they remained poised to pick up customers. When using these platforms, you aren't confused about whether customers are on the platform or not; you just know. Unlike Apple, which has the brand cachet to essentially lure users into use iMessage, Google Messages isn't sexy or alluring. It's more utilitarian than anything, and users aren't flocking to it. Complicating matters is Apple. Because it has kept away from adopting RCS, it has played a huge part in keeping that technology relatively invisible.

In the meantime, we are now left with a messaging solution that has less potential reach the masses than even Hangouts or Allo. One that is primarily associated with a legacy messaging system and that is largely unavailable on the world's most popular platform. It's going to be hard to sell customers on that.

58 Comments
  • I do find it interesting that as big as Google, and Android are that they can not find a way to market themselves better.
  • If you are talking about Android in US it is ALL Galaxy and Samsung so a good start is there. However Samsung's native is already very good and integrates RCS.
  • Except when it doesn't. On my Galaxy S20FE, using T-Mobile, RCS appears to be activated in Samsung Messages. However, it only works with other Samsung devices. My family has Pixels and use RCS on Google Messages...no luck for me.
  • "If you're living in Europe, where the split is 50/50 iPhone and Android" You must be living in a different Europe than I am...
  • Android has way bigger market share here. I honestly thought it would be the other way round purely based on most people I know 🙄
  • Where's here? There's 50 countries here.
  • Europe? 🤷🏻‍♂️ Even if I am in the UK. He mentioned a European split, no mention of what part of?
  • In the UK Apple is leading but it's not a big lead though but a lead is a lead no matter how small.
  • My bad, I've narrowed it down to be clearer.
  • Thanks for the correction Michael. Europe is diverse. It can be fine to say EU depending on context. But Belarus is in Europe for example.
  • Americans are always mistaken for taking about Europe like its really a country. There is as many countries in Europe as there are states in the USA though. He means The UK and says Europe :-/
  • Well if I say here in North America I'm not wrong, even if I dont say Texas USA.
  • Texas isn't a country 🙄. There are only 3 countries in North America. There are 50 in Europe.
  • Some people really just want to argue huh
  • Most people tend to use what's already installed on their phone's, especially older and non techies. They don't want to go through the hassle of installing another app. This is my friends and family. The ones using android are all using messages so it works for me.
  • I gave up on their entire messaging strategy years ago. They release a new messaging app almost every other year. If it's not a complete smash hit, they abandon it and force all the users to use something else. No migration... just move your stuff and convince your friends and family to use this instead. Then they do it again the next year. So then you have tons of confused people that can't even communicate with apps from the same company. I'd honestly be surprised if they didn't release another chat app this year.
  • I agree with you on the chat apps like allo but, Google messages and RCS are a different from their chat apps.
    It's based on a standard RCS, and it's the standards way to upgrade from text. messages
    At this point even if Google gave up on RCS it would still exist as a standard and other android manufacturers like Samsung are behind it as well.
    I switched my wife and mom to Google messages and we're really enjoying it.
    Unlike there other apps you don't have to convince someone to use a different app to chat with you. You just have to convince them to use google messages for texts and any chat with other people who are using RCS gets the additional features.
    Honestly all I said to my wife is I'm installing Google messages so we can send each other better pictures and videos.
    It's also an excellent sms app so your not asking as much as with other apps like allo.
    I never tried to convince anyone to use allo or hangouts lol. I kinda new they were doomed to failure.
    RCS is a slow buildup but as more android manufacturers get on board, it just choose to bundle Google messages I think it will eventually become dominant on Android.
  • He figures it's irrelevant when it's the SMS app on millions of phones. Google are still rolling out RCS globally.
  • But very few networks support it, which is why google have to push it through their own servers, the mobile phone service provider I use don't support RCS, but it is a virtual network, the company that is behind it, 3 does support RCS as far as I know.
  • That's the point. It doesn't matter what carriers do. Google Messages is installed on all modern Android phones now (except Samsung in NA oddly) and soon enough you'll be able to RCS globally. It'll have the reach WhatsApp gets. Whether it'll be used is a different question.
  • No it is not the point, Google want carriers to support RCS, google don't really want to do it, they have done so because very few carriers are doing so.
    Google messenger is not installed on all modern Android phones, some phone like Huawei have their own messaging app, and this was before Trump decided to act like a baby and ban Huawei.
    Nokia used to use their own app, not sure if they use Google messenger now, but they never used to.
    As i have said before, I prefer not to have RCS and when I get my next phone, and it is on there by default, I will disable it.
  • 1. It doesn't matter what carriers want. 2. I said modern Android phones, even Samsung as of the recent S21 use Google Messages. I didn't mean it's in ALL Android phones. You can't count Huawei anymore because whatever Google do Huawei can't make use of it. If the recipient doesn't also have RCS you'll be sending SMS messages like you are anyway. There's no benefit to not enabling and besides you'll never know if more of your friends use it if you're luddite and just disable it. The only valid reason not to enable it is if you want to use a third party SMS app.
  • It matters a lot what carriers want, as I said, Google did not want to carry RCS, it wanted carriers to do it, so it was part of SMS, if you use RCS on most carriers, you go through google servers. it seems like most carriers have no interest in RCS and to be honest in Europe it has come to late, a lot of people use Whats app. My phone is pre-Trump, well almost, so Huawei could have used the messenger app, but they choose not to. Now we get to the nitty-gritty of insults and name-calling, because someone doesn't agree with you. I wondered how long it would be before the word Luddite is used. just because i don't want to use RCS, don't mean I am a Luddite, i just prefer plain text, I don't need pe4ople sending me a load of silly gifs, which seems to be the norm these days, even do it on Yammer.
    i did enable, i installed Google messenger just to see and there was very few people that used it.
  • Badavon,
    Luddite? Obviously you do not realize for their day they were very technical folks. Do some reading about Luddites, learn what their issue was; not what you think it was.
  • I use the Messaging app that is on my Hauwei, good old SMS, it does what I need, I don't need fancy RCS.
  • I think I've had a grand total of 1 person using the RCS chat feature on my sms app in what? 2 years it's been available? I just don't know anyone who communicates with sms these days by choice
  • I did install the Google messenger for a couple of days and turned on RCS and if I remember rightly there were 2 people that had RCS turned on, I don't really like Google messanger so went back to the one that is default on my phone. I do not like the idea of RCS anyway, people sending silly gifs and that sort of thing. I just want a text based messaging service, maybe with the odd smily and thumbs up and that is it. SMS is what I mostly use, it does what I want and in the U.K most people get SMS with their contract, even pay as you go normally have a load of SMS with them, I have a sim only contract and I have unlimited SMS. i know a lot of people use Whatsapp and other stuff like that, but i don't have any of them installed on my phone, mainly due to them wanting to know your phone number, and then you end up giving your phone number to people you don't really want to. I do have Facebook Messenger on my phone and i use that if i really must.
  • My impression its only important to North Americans as SMS is still used there. Only 4 for me but really 1 as the rest aren't friends.
  • Point is you'll just yet RCS anyway. You don't need to think about it.
  • Have not worked very well so far then, with all the people I know, only a couple showed up as using RCS.
  • What Google really needs to do now is create an entirely new messaging app that does mostly the same stuff as this one but doesn't connect in the same ways to their other messaging apps. Why have 4 completely separate and siloed messaging/video apps when you can have 5 or 6?? Or they could just change the name of this app (again?) so that people are likely to not care (again?).
  • Google does a bad job at explaining everything. Why is anyone surprised?
  • Apple released iMessage in 2011 and 10 years later Google can’t come up with anything to compete with it. Why would anyone switch to Androids janky messaging apps when they have a solid messaging app on iPhone?
  • The problem is, Imessage onlyu works with Apple, the same as RCS only works with Android,. SMS works with any phone, even old non-smart phones.
  • iPhones are archaic, the only thing they have going for them is iMessage and the fact iPhone is popular here in the US.
  • I know people who have iPhones and iMessage is certainly not the reason they have them, they buy Iphones because they prefer the way they work to Android, also one of them uses a MAc and the Iphone integrates nicely into the Mac if you like that sort of thing. Android don't integrate with anything very well, sure Microsoft have tried to with Your phone, but that only works correctly with some Samsung phones, since MS have got into bed with Samsung. It is fine by me, I don't want my phone intergrated with my computer.
    I am not a fan of Iphones, I did try one for a week that was loaned to me, but I could not get used to it, mainly the shove eveything on a couple of screens thing.
  • iPhones made be archaic to you but it's clear by the popularity of the iPhone around the world that a lot of people, myself included don't think so, people buy the iPhone because of the more polished experience, the security and privacy, the excellent software support which no Android phone can match along with the optimisation. Say what you want about Apple but you cannot deny that iMessage is one thing they got right and is one of the major selling points of an iPhone. Oh and iPhone has class leading performance too.
  • I think some people use Iphones for the same reason some use Samsung, to show off, certainly the more expensive ones. I know someone who gets a new high-end Samsung every couple of years and shows it to everyone, and yet he still does the same thing with it, he did with his old phones and I know people who do that with Iphones, look at me, I have the latest Iphone. there are people who do have the Iphone because they prefer them, a friend of mine had an Iphone and went to Android, but then back to an Iphone even if it was a second hand one, because she prefers it.
    The iPhone is like the Mac, when you make your own OS and hardware you have more control over it, Android is I suppose is like Windows, one OS for different hardware. i am not saying that is anything wrong with the Iphone or IOS, they are good solid phones and the OS is solid, my main problems with the Iphone is the clutter, it seems like everything is pushed onto what would be a home screen in Android, something like what my Huawei phone came like as default, I had to set up the settings, so it is like a normal Android phone with the drawer, another thing is the recharging cable, I can go to most places and i am sure to find a cable to fit my phone if I realise the charge is low, a mini USB cable is easier to find than a lighting one, ok newer Android phones use USB-C these days.
    Then you get Apple controlling everything, too much of a walled garden, I know Android is to a certain degree, but they don't have the control over my phone that Apple would have if it was an Iphone. The other thing is choice, if I went for an IOS phone then it is Apple and I can only choose from Apple range and their range from expensive to need a second mortgage expensive, Android phones there are more choice, even if they all seem to be copying the silly aspect ratio, hole in the screen for a camera and a ton of lenses on the back. i could pick up an Android phone for under £100, sure it will not be the most powerful thing and the camera will not be great, for a £100 phone what would you expect, but it would be a smartphone and to be honest would no doubt do what most people use a smartphone for.
    My price for a phone is around the £200 mark, I would not pay more for a phone, no matter how many cores, memory, mega pixels on the camera it has. Iphones look like all the others anyway before it is turned on. Saying all of that, people have what they like, simple as that, sadly these days I see nothing I like as far as smartphones go.
  • You sir get comment of the day, messaging on Android has been a joke since day 1 so it's not really a surprise that Google, after 10 years still can't get messaging right on Android, and it doesn't help that every Android OEM has their own messaging app and they can't even be bothered to update their phones so it's not expected that RCS will be adopted by OEMS.
  • Why has it been a joke? You write a text and send it and wait until someone send one back, I don't know your age, so maybe you don't remember having to press a key on a keypad a certain amount of times to get a letter to text. Even the early Android phones was easier to send text than that.
    I don't get this need to send silly gifs and a ton of emojis to people? I have seen messages on some peoples phones that looks like we are back in Ancient Egypt, this is why I stay with normal SMS. I sent a message to a friend last night asking her if she was feeling better, she sent a text back to say how she feels, no silly emojis apart from a smiley. She has an Iphone, so even if I had RCS, it would make no difference.
  • All Google needed to do was make Allo the oficial messaging app, let users sign in with their google account or phone number. Have messages delivered over data and integrate plain sms for non android users. Then find a way to build Duo into Allo for seamless video calling within Allo. Make it part of the Google services and fight whatever County or carrier was against it (you’re google for God sakes, you have the power, you can do it). Allo had an iOS app from the beginning so it could have been easier for people to start using it. No need to roll out updates to different versions of android or phones (the same way Gmail works on all types of versions/phones) or worry about Jack not having the same carrier as June. No need to convince people to do use cause it’s already built in as part of google service apps for android the same way they have a bunch of those apps really. Google the bigger they are the less common sense they have.
  • Well said. I loved allo.
  • +2
    Google's messaging strategy has been a real head scratcher forever. Probably the single most important function of a smartphone and they totally screw it up year after year.
  • When it wouldn't be default on Samsung or Apple phones how would that work exactly? What you're describing is people having to adopt a second app alongside their SMS app. What you're also describing is an app with no traction. It got ignored. because Apple and Facebook got in their early with IOS + Android messaging. Besides Allo was the official messaging app and it tanked.
  • Allo was never the official messaging app on Android eje it came out, they still had the text message app on it. If they Google had left out the message/regular text app and instead replaced it completely with Allo it would have been the only text message app for people to use it rather than releasing Allo along side the text message app (two apps at the same time) that’s what google did. Now Apple as for Apple. If have have Allo on my android phone and I send a message through Allo to and iPhone but the iPhone user doesn’t have Allo downloaded, have that text delivered to the iPhone iMessage app the same way it does now as a text. On the other hand if I’m an android user send a message through Allo to an iPhone and that person has Allo downloaded on the iPhone well then message I send would be deliver to the Allo app not the iMessage app. Not sure if I’m explaining to correctly. As for Samsung it doesn’t have to be the default app on Samsung because Allo would be installed as part of the Google suite Apps and people would just use the Allo app instead of the Samsung message app. People do not have to adapt a second SMS app they will just not use the SMS app that comes with the phone since Samsung duplicate most of google apps anyways. Just the same way people use the Gmail app on a Samsung phone instead of the email app that comes with Samsung phones.
  • I quite like Google Messages.... it has a quick, easy web interface. I can take that web interface and make it an "app" on my macbook dock....and every other computer I own (windows & mac & iPad). I don't dive into the details of every other messaging app, but this feature is nice and is very reliable.
  • WhatsApp and Signal have the same and work in exactly the same way. Telegram has a Desktop app.
  • Why would you want a web interface? It is supposed to be a phone messaging service.
  • This is what makes me anxious about switching out my IPhone 11 Pro back to Android. iMessage is great and I don’t want to experience an inferior messaging system.
  • iMessage is massively hobbled by not being cross platform. You wouldn't need to because only a niche care about Google's Messaging platforms anyway. Plenty of great options like WhatsApp or Signal.
  • Google Really need to work on the UI of messages app. It looks so dull and the emojis are pathetic.. I would rather prefer Textra for simple messages as WhatsApp and Signal are there for cross-platform messaging.
  • True. Google's UX designed has always been bland. The Samsung OneUI version of Google Messages looks nicer.
  • that is because Samsung sticks a load of bloat on their phones and why they slow down.
  • I dunno man I like the design of Google messages in a nice shade of blue.
  • I've had my Pixel for a while now, and every couple of days I discover that a feature isn't active because I haven't opened an app yet, or there's a great Google app I haven't installed (usually because I'm thinking, "Where's that feature they advertised my phone would have?"). And I'm constantly having to tell my friends about these things they've never heard of. And now you're telling me this. I would never have known that I needed to actively enable it. It's great that there's so much extra stuff, but Google really needs to create an app called Checklist or something that takes you through all the stuff you can enable and gets that done, and then tells you about the extras like Photoscan, Voice Access (so much deeper than Assistant), Measure, etc and lets you install them right there in the app so they don't risk being lost in a mental to-do list. The basic hardware tour doesn't come close to doing this job.
  • Say what you want about Apple but one thing that no Android diehard on here can deny is that Apple got messaging right on iPhone.
  • I think that is exactly what everyone is saying. Pretty sure no one is disagreeing with you.
  • Have they? Maybe if you want to send someone a load of gifs,