Google has secured a bit more buy in from Samsung for a next generation text messaging standard it’s long been promoting.
The Android OS maker’s hope for Rich Communication Services (RCS), which upgrades what SMS can offer to support richer comms and content swapping, can provide its fragmented Android ecosystem with a way to offer comparably rich native messaging — a la Apple’s iMessage on iOS.
But it’s a major, major task given how many Android devices are out there. And Google needs the entire industry to step with it to support RCS (not just device makers but carriers too) if it’s going to achieve anything more than fiddling around the edges.
Zooming out for a moment, the even bigger problem is the messaging ship has sailed, with massively popular platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram having already offloaded billions of users into their respective walled gardens, pulling the center of gravity away from SMS.
Not that that has stopped Google trying, though, even as it has been muddled in its strategy too — spreading its messaging efforts around quite a bit (with false starts like Allo).
Google doubled down on RCS in April when it pulled resources from the standalone Allo messaging app to focus on trying to drum up more support for next-gen SMS instead.
It has also managed to build a modicum of momentum behind RCS. At this year’s Mobile World Congress it announced more than 40 carriers now backed RCS — up from ~27 the year before. The most recent support figure put the carrier number at 55.
But, three years on from its acquisition of RCS specialist Jibe Mobile — and ambitious talk of building ‘the future of messaging’ — there’s little sign of that.
An added wrinkle is that carriers also have to have actively rolled out RCS support, not just stated they intend to. And it’s not clear exactly how many have.
Nor is it clear how many users of RCS there are at this stage. (Back in 2016 carriers were merely talking about building “a path” to one billion users — at a time when SMS had several billions of users, suggesting they saw little chance of creating anything near next-gen messaging ubiquity via the standard.)
The latest Google-backed RCS development, announced via press release, is of an “expanded collaboration” between Mountain View and Samsung — saying their respective message clients will “work seamlessly with each company’s RCS technology, including cloud and business messaging platforms”.
The pair have previously added RCS support to “select Samsung devices” but are now saying RCS features will be brought to some existing Samsung smartphones — including (and beginning with) the Galaxy S8 and S8+, as well as the S8 Active, S9, S9+, Note8, Note9, and select A and J series running Android 9.0 or later.
Which sounds like a fair few devices. But it’s also muddier than that — because again support remains subject to carrier and market availability. So won’t be universal across even that subset of Samsung Android handsets.
They also now say that (select) new Samsung Galaxy smartphones will natively support RCS messaging. But, again, that’s only where carriers support the standard.
“This means that consumers and brands will be able to enjoy richer chats with both Android Messages and Samsung Messages users,” they add, after their string of caveats.
Despite the PR ending on an upbeat note — with the two companies talking about bringing an “enhanced messaging experience across the entire Android ecosystem” — there’s clearly zero chance of that. A clear consequence of the rich ‘biodiversity’ of the Android ecosystem is reduced ubiquity for cross-device standardization plays like this.
Still, if Google can cherry pick enough flagship devices and markets to buy in to supporting RCS it might have figured that’s critical messaging mass enough to stack against Apple’s iMessage. So added buy in from Samsung — whose high end devices are most often contending with iPhones for consumers’ cash — is certainly helpful to its strategy.