Verizon is also switching to Android Messages as default for RCS

Illustration by William Joel / The Verge
If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Beginning next year, Verizon will join AT&T and T-Mobile in preloading Android Messages as the default texting app on all Android phones it sells. It’s the final step for making RCS Chat — the next-gen standard designed to replace SMS — the default experience for Android. In the US, that only leaves one large cohort that will not use RCS as a default SMS replacement: iPhone users.

Verizon has also said it will fully support interoperability between carriers, so in theory the improved images, video, read receipts, and group chats should just work — assuming everybody you’re texting with is also using Android Messages.

Verizon was the last of the big three US carriers to get on board with Google’s latest strategy to push RCS as the new default for texting. After years of cajoling, shaming, and downright pleading, the company has made deals with carriers to simply use the standard Android Messages app, which supports RCS by default.

Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of Android, Chrome OS, and the Play Store, is quick to note that end-to-end encryption for RCS inside Android Messages is also in the process of rolling out. It’s available for “peer-to-peer” chats (i.e. a chat with one other person), but group chats are on the roadmap as well.

Default, end-to-end encrypted chats between Android phones raise an interesting conundrum for Apple. Next year, texts between Android phones and iPhones will be less secure than texts within those two ecosystems — because they will be on SMS instead of RCS.

Apple’s Messages app offers end-to-end encryption if all users are on the iMessage system, and it has shown no appetite to either offer iMessage on Android nor to adopt RCS on the iPhone. Google, meanwhile, is happy to take the opportunity to needle Apple by openly inviting it to use RCS.

“Going forward, the default messaging experience on Android is going to be more secure,” says Lockheimer, who has previously invited Apple to adopt RCS. “The fallback messaging experience on the other platform will not have encryption if it’s still SMS. I think that that is a pretty interesting dynamic and I would hope that as everyone focuses on security and privacy it becomes an important part of the discussion.”

Lockheimer wouldn’t confirm if Google is in active discussions with Apple, but it doesn’t seem as though RCS is likely to come to the iPhone soon and the company has declined to comment on the matter several times over the years. But there is clearly a pressure campaign on, even if it’s not very strident. Speaking about Apple adoption, Lockheimer says, “I actually do think getting the three major carriers in the US to adopt RCS in a consistent manner is a big part of the equation.”

Currently, there are 473 million monthly active RCS users around the globe, according to the GSMA. Adoption in the US is likely to boost that number by quite a bit. Google has no plans to try to introduce a messaging app that supports RCS on the iPhone.

Although RCS has been closely associated with Google, the company often points to the fact that it is meant to be a standard that is shared by the entire mobile industry and managed by the GSMA. Carriers are able to use their own RCS infrastructure instead of Google’s. Still, RCS is closely tied to Google in many people’s minds and Google offers RCS services to carriers and will even allow consumers to directly use RCS via its services if their carrier doesn’t offer it. Google began pushing RCS as the new texting experience on Android after its own messaging attempts (notably Hangouts and Allo) floundered.

Lockheimer claims that Google prefers the slightly more open RCS approach to a Google-owned texting solution being the default on Android. “We don’t think there should be one messaging app to rule them all. We fully realize people are going to use multiple messaging apps,” he says.

As for Verizon, it will continue to offer its Verizon Message+ (VM+) application alongside Android Messages for customers who wish to use it. It’s a maligned app and for good reason: it’s rife with awkward interface controls and Verizon branding — but since it’s really the only way to sync Verizon text messages across different devices, it’s going to stick around.

Apparently Verizon and Google intend to find a way to ensure that VM+ and Android Messages share a text message database so that messages stay in sync. That’s potentially a first step toward opening up RCS to third-party applications — something that’s been impossible so far.

Google’s deal with Verizon caps a flurry of RCS activity that kicked off this past March with the T-Mobile deal, then the end of the encrypted chat beta in June, and finally a deal with AT&T in June as well.

Unfortunately, as with all things Android and RCS, the results of that activity won’t be felt by users until later. Verizon won’t be making the switch to Android Messages until 2022.

Comments

Well done google, next pressure apple.

Pressure should be on Google to open up the API for their developers to use RCS before applying pressure on Apple.

Getting Apple to implement RCS is a bigger lift than opening a library for developers. Apple probably isn’t going to take any code from Google.

Google is right to pressure them sooner rather than later.

What if apple just let google launch their messages app on iphone? Think why they changed the name from ‘Android Messages’ to simply ‘Messages’.

Apple considers SMS/MMS messaging a core feature of an iPhone and doesn’t permit multiple Apps performing a core feature. Similar to how Chrome and Firefox on iPhone use Safari’s web renderer rather than their own as they do on other Operating Systems.

In Apple’s paradigm they would need to implement RCS.

Also I don’t think Apple allows other Apps access to the SMS/MMS functionality. SMS/MMS messages piggy back on the beacon messages between a cellphone and celltower. They’re kind of a hack and low level. It would be a security risk to let anything manage that.

On Android, Google has an interface/database for SMS/MMS so that other developers can write their own messaging apps. This method works until you introduce RCS or other Over-The-Top messaging like Signal or WhatsApp. Signal and WhatsApp can’t see RCS messages sent via Messenger just as it can’t see messages sent on the Signal or WhatsApp network. This is the type of situation Apple is trying to avoid by controlling all Messaging.

¿Por que no los dos?

That makes no sense…
I mean, do you not use Twilio or similar to send SMS now? Why Google?

I think they mean so that Android app developers can make their messaging apps able to send RCS message. Right now Android exposes APIs to make SMS clients, but not RCS clients.

Apple will hold on until the very bitter end, for the simple reason that RCS offers a similar experience to iMessage. Once they give that up, they’ve just lost their (arguably) biggest lock-in incentive.

Not at all. Messages between two iPhone users will still default to iMessage.

Right. But the experience between iPhone and Android users will be much better, which is the real rub. As it is, people try to avoid using SMS on iPhone if at all possible (I can also attest to this from personal experience). People will even kick their non-iOS friends out of a group chat just to stay within iMessage. If RCS comes to iPhone and its a great experience, with the added benefit of end-to-end encryption, then having access to iMessage isn’t such a big deal anymore.

Yeah, Apple definitely wants to hold on to their control with iMessage and make it work best between iPhones exclusively

They used a similarish tactic with iTunes, where they had iTunes on windows too, but made the performance there intentionally horrible.

As it is, people try to avoid using SMS on iPhone if at all possible

Do they? Personally back when I had an iPhone I turned iMessage off after it caused on too many non-deliveries

Anyway as it stands RCS has exactly the same issue as iMessage – because it doesn’t work cross-platform it’s essentially useless to me and I’ll have to stick with having a dozen apps installed

Do they? Personally back when I had an iPhone I turned iMessage off after it caused on too many non-deliveries

I did the exact same thing. I never really needed iMessage.

That’s surprising. I don’t know that I’ve ever had an iMessage go undelivered.

I disagree. iMessage is has tons of features RCS doesn’t offer yet. iMessage apps, message effects and location sharing.
iOS 15 will bring even more.

but RCS is miles ahead of SMS/MMS with enough features that the gap would be consider neglible by most. you get read receipts. you get high quality video and pictures. you get more reliable delivery. so many other features that people would be fine with any phone. and it would allow a common ground. right now, I still prefer things like Teams over iMessage because there’s more features like the ability to search, the ability to keep all messages for all time, share all kinds of files, edit documents together, etc. but the reality is an app like Teams or FB Messenger or whatever will not get the penetration of SMS/MMS.

iMessage has the ability to search, keep all messages for all time, and share all kinds of files. It only does not allow editing files within the app.

Teams is definitely a powerful app. And it makes me want Apple to add Files and Notes as iMessage apps.

That would be super cool.

Really? None of the iPhone users I’ve ever encountered have been able to search. And they’ve all had messages age out of their messages

Yup, search since 2017 at least, and it’s only gotten better since. History even longer.

This is a very American opinion. Curious: do many people use iPhone’s "Messages" app outside the US?

The only reason iMessage took off in the US is because US carriers began offering unlimited texting plans for SMS/MMS messages 10 years ago when iMessage launched. And since iMessage is built directly into the Messages app and completely automatic, it stuck. Carriers outside the US didn’t offer unlimited SMS/MMS until years after WhatsApp and Telegram launched. By then it was too late for iMessage.

I dont think Google will have much influence to pressure Apple. But its customers might..

View All Comments
Back to top ↑