Android phones do many things well, but when it comes to texting, the iPhone has Google beat. Apple’s iMessage app supports group messaging and read receipts, and has that addictive blue bubble that automatically texts other iPhone users over Wi-Fi, not just your cellular data connection. The fact that Android phone makers use different messaging apps by default keeps the act of texting from becoming as indispensable as iMessage is to iPhone users.
Google wants to change all that, and is working with US carriers to make text messaging more powerful, more consistent across Android phones and more fun to use. It will take work, though, namely getting carriers to adopt a messaging protocol called RCS.
Here’s a look at what RCS is and does, what it’ll give you and when you might be able to start using it on your Android phone.
Google’s RCS wants to mimic iMessage’s magic with Android…
What does RCS mean?
RCS is a type of messaging protocol that stands for Rich Communication Services. When it’s widely available, it will replace SMS, the text messaging standard that’s been used since the 1990’s.
SMS messaging has evolved some over the years, expanding past the original 160 character limit and adding MMS (multimedia messaging) for sending pictures and videos. However, SMS is starting to show its age and limitations. RCS would allow texting on Android to be as flexible and powerful as text message platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat, for example.
How will RCS make texting better?
The biggest change is that RCS messaging will let you share high-resolution photos, videos, GIFs and texts over Wi-Fi as well as over your phone’s data connection. You’ll be able to see if contacts are available, when they’re typing to you and when they’ve read a message. Group conversations will also see improvements.
It’s basically iMessage, but for Android.
Google has an entire website dedicated to explaining the benefits of RCS messaging if you want to get into the finer details.
What other features will RCS have?
Once RCS messaging becomes more prominent, you’ll be able to chat with businesses to place and track orders, make payments and get help with a product. Business chat is something that Apple’s iMessage platform currently has, but bringing a similar feature to Android users is a welcome addition.
How RCS texting will work on Android phones
If you have a phone and use a wireless carrier that supports RCS (more on this in a minute) you should only need to open Google’s Messages app and follow the prompts when asked if you want to use chat features.
After chat is enabled, you can continue to use the Messages app as you normally do, but whenever you’re talking to someone who also has the feature turned on, you’ll get the added features of RCS messaging.
Some device-makers, like Samsung, have integrated Google’s RCS platform into its own default Messages app, and over time companies like LG could do the same. But right now, your best bet is to use Google’s Messages app. Doing so will give you the added benefit of being able to send text messages from your computer, and you’ll receive an alert whenever RCS messaging is available for your phone and carrier.
I have Google’s Messages installed but don’t have RCS. Why?
This is where RCS gets messy. In order for RCS to work, your phone and your wireless carrier both have to support it. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as Google releasing an app, you installing it, and then gaining access to the new features.
We’ve seen a number of announcements and partnerships from Google, Android device makers, and even carriers that RCS is finally going to roll out. But the truth is, only a small number of phones on an even smaller list of carriers currently support it.
Which carriers and phones work with RCS texting now?
Right now, there are a few phones and carriers that support it, but it’s very hit or miss. Verizon added RCS support for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL and intended to support the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, but that’s where the fun stopped.
In 2018, Google and Samsung announced a partnership to bring RCS messaging to more Android devices, but without carrier support, it doesn’t mean much.
Adding to the confusion are companies like Verizon, whose Message+ text messaging app supports RCS, but doesn’t use Google’s Universal Profile. So, if you’re a Verizon customer who uses Message+, you can use the RCS spinoff as long as you’re chatting with another Verizon user who is also using Message+.
There are some carriers that support Google’s RCS Universal Profile and you can use RCS on right now, such as Sprint and Google Fi. Outside of the US, Google enabled RCS for the UK and France in July of 2019.
If you aren’t sure if your carrier supports it, GadgetHacks has a fantastic breakdown of carriers and their respective approaches to RCS across the globe.
When will I get RCS messaging on my Android phone?
Good question. Right now, it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon. Especially now that carriers in the US have decided they’re going to build out their own messaging platform, with support for Google’s Universal Profile, with roll-out taking place sometime in 2020. That means that you may ultimately see an improved messaging experience on your Android phone here in the US, but it could potentially be a fractured or inconsistent experience due to the wireless carriers’ implementation.
We’re following the story and will update this FAQ as development arise. Until then, the only thing we can do is wait.
What about RCS on my iPhone?
Apple has kept quiet about its intention for supporting RCS on the iPhone. But it’s much more likely that Apple will keep using its own iMessage platform to make iPhone users feel like they’re part of a rarified community.
How to use RCS right now regardless of your carrier, with a catch
Reddit users figured out a way to enable RCS on any Android phone, regardless of carrier. If anything, it proves that Google could turn on RCS messaging for all Android users without carrier approval. Google’s unlikely to risk alienating its valuable business partners.
The process is somewhat technical, but the instructions are straight-forward. Keep in mind that you’re accepting some risk by trying it out, and the program could stop working at any moment. That’s the nature of the beast.
If you’re tired of standard text messaging, check out these messaging apps that offer their own iMessage-like features. Then again, you could always jump ship to iPhone — it’s not as hard as you’d think.