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  • Writer's pictureJamal Saafir

Apple Agrees To Support RCS On iPhones

According to a report from TechCrunch, Apple intends to incorporate the RCS standard on iOS 2024. This comes as a notable change of sentiment for Apple, resolving the vast issue of compatibility in text messaging between iPhones and Android smartphones, but stopped short of removing what is informally referenced as the “green bubble”.

Apple’s enduring refusal to support RCS has maintained the disconnect between messaging ecosystems, mainly imposing upon Android users, critics have expressed throughout the years. Apple’s position is often viewed as sustaining ecosystem exclusivity, which sparked debate in the tech community over interoperability and user convenience.

This era is now coming to a close. In a recent announcement, Apple said it, too, believes that “RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS.” Adding, “This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”

The landmark reversal comes after Google’s repeated request — and public pressure on — Apple to add support for RCS to iPhones. “People have talked about ‘green bubbles’ as an Android problem,” Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP at Google, tweeted last year, referencing the visual indication seen when a message is sent from an Android phone to an iPhone, where it appears in a green bubble.

While Apple intends to incorporate RCS, it has confirmed that messages sent from Android users to iPhone users will continue to be displayed in the green bubbles.

“We’re not asking Apple to make iMessage available on Android. We’re asking Apple to support the industry standard for modern messaging (RCS) in iMessage, just as they support the older SMS / MMS standards. By not incorporating RCS, Apple is holding back the industry and holding back the user experience for not only Android users but also their own customers,” he tweeted.

Apple hasn’t minced words on its previous position on RCS. Apple chief Tim Cook dismissed the consideration of his company adopting RCS in iMessage a year ago. Cook suggested that the inquirer attending the conference buy their mom an iPhone.

Rich Communication Services, or RCS, is the collective effort of several industry entities to enhance the traditional SMS with modern features such as richer texts and end-to-end encryption.

Google, Samsung and a number of other firms, including telecom operators, have rolled out support for RCS to over 800 million users globally in recent years.

Critics contend that the interference in group chats and interactions between Android and iPhone users has historically prevented many from switching to Android smartphones — and it was intentional. This strategy was made known in Apple’s legal battle with Epic Games, where internal discussions revealed a conscious decision to keep iMessage within its ecosystem.

During the legal dispute, a slew of internal Apple documents became available to the public. These documents revealed a lengthy internal debate about introducing iMessage to Android-operated devices.

“In the absence of a strategy to become the primary messaging service for bulk of cell phone users, I am concerned the iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief software executive, said in a 2013 email.

Phil Schiller, the then marketing chief, conveyed the same thoughts in 2016, advising Cook in an email, “Moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us.” That same year, an email from a former Apple executive cautioned that iMessage creates significant user retention, describing it as a “serious lock-in.”

Apple’s Thursday decision, coincidentally, comes upon the heels of Google and many telecom operators recently urging EU regulators to make Apple designate iMessage as a “core” service under the new Digital Markets Act, compelling the iPhone-maker to make the chat app fully compatible with its competitors. As TechCrunch first reported this month, Apple has divulged in a filing that it “expects to make” several policy changes to abide by the new guidelines going into effect next year.

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