AT&T and Google have announced that all Android phones on the network will use Google’s Android Messages app for SMS and RCS services. T-Mobile made the exact same partnership deal with Google in March, which leaves Verizon as the only US carrier who hasn’t committed to switching its customers to Android Messages by default.
Along with the switch to Messages comes another important shift: real interoperability with RCS on other networks. AT&T has supported RCS for awhile now, but that support has been as haphazard as it was half-hearted. The new deal also means that AT&T customers will benefit from the rollout of end-to-end encryption for RCS that Google is rolling out to all customers this year (that rollout has already begun, in fact).
Google has been pushing RCS as its default texting solution for Android for some time now, touting it as an open standard that any carrier can easily adopt as the next generation of SMS. RCS has a lot of advantages over SMS: there are no character limits, it can send larger files, it can show typing indicators, offer better group chats, Wi-Fi support, and offer end-to-end encryption for one-on-one chats.
When Android Messages detects that you’re texting with another phone that supports RCS, your text entry window will switch to say that you are sending a “Chat” and that you have “Chat features” enabled. This is not the same thing as Google Chat, the company’s other messaging service. Yes, it’s confusing — blame Google.
In any case, despite Google’s best efforts, carriers were slow to adopt RCS. In fact, in October 2019 they announced a doomed attempt to form an RCS consortium that went nowhere. Google eventually had to take matters into its own hands, years into an overlong transition by offering RCS services directly to any Android user.
In all, the RCS Chat rollout has been a huge mess because of politics, corporate fights, and plain old confusing Google messaging app strategies.
Now, with these carrier deals, Google has gone one step further to make it a true default. Unfortunately, it’s just a step. Verizon will need to get on board, too, as will another big company: Apple. The iPhone does not support RCS and Apple has yet to make a peep about whether it will.