Apple to Support RCS in Messages Next Year

Originally published at: Apple to Support RCS in Messages Next Year - TidBITS

In an announcement that the tech press likely cares about more than everyday users, Apple said Messages will support the RCS messaging standard alongside SMS and MMS sometime next year.

Due to this new way of doing things, are there any changes in the way encryption is implemented for Messages ??

I have read nothing new about message encryption except that Apple said that they will only implement the RCS standard, and not proprietary encryption standards added by others, such as Google’s added to Android. So really RCS will just be a replacement (where available) for SMS/MMS messages, which are never encrypted, but will add a few extra features not available to SMS or MMS messages or MMS groups, such as the ability to remove yourself from a MMS group (a much-needed feature in my opinion), the ability to pass along read status, plus a few other features that are now only available to iMessage conversations and groups.

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Makes sense that Apple would implement it AFTER a standard is published, rather than trying to implement to a Google-ized implementation (cough… gmail… cough). Apple rarely bows to pressure from competitors from what I’ve seen. Governments, yes. Competitors, no.

Sounds like low hanging fruit. What are the downsides to doing this for Apple? And for their users? Are there any?

I wonder if Tim’s impromptu joke about that guy having to buy his mother an iPhone made Apple’s legal department antsy. Could that kind of joke be the thing EU regulators later use to substantiate claims of lock-in by the gatekeeper? This move could potentially be seen as undoing that potential harm.

It’s that “where available” clause that has me concerned.

Is support for RCS sufficiently broad to replace SMS’s role as a lingua franca?

My understanding is that the rollout of RCS was spearheaded by Google Messages and that not all Android phones come with Google Messages preinstalled so users of such Android phones would have to download it or another app that supports RCS. And even Android users who have Google Messages installed may have to activate or turn on support for RCS.

Presumably getting Messages support for RCS on iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS will require some sort of software update; which Apple devices will be able to install such an update? What will happen when an iPhone that wasn’t updated receives an RCS text?

Despite its limitations, SMS is universal; all mobile devices (as well as many other devices and gateway services) from this century support both sending and receiving SMS texts. I suspect that RCS will not be supported by all devices—neither all iOS, Android, nor others—and we’ll still need a fallback to exchange SMS texts with non-RCS devices.

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RCS availability is by carrier. I know that my carrier, Verizon supports it. And still, because I use an iPhone, the messages that they deliver to me fall back to SMS and MMS. Wikipedia has a pretty good article about RCS: Rich Communication Services - Wikipedia

Verizon has a FAQ about RCS as well: Advanced Messaging FAQs | Verizon

This shows that only Samsung phones on Verizon support RCS, which seems strange, since I would think Google’s Pixel phones should as well. This also says that if you are roaming off Verizon’s network that RCS will not be used.

I don’t know if Apple has specifically said - I’ve really only read the headlines - but I suspect that RCS will be used when it can for non-iMessage messages, and messages will fall back to SMS/MMS when RCS is unavailable, similar to how iMessage threads can fall back to SMS currently when the recipient’s device cannot be reached by iMessage (because the phone is turned off, is in an area of no cellular service, etc.)

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My thought exactly!

The question for me is … will this enable me to send free picture messages to Android phones. At the moment my carrier (EE) charges me about 50p for MMS, so I have this switched off. Messaging pics to iPhones has always been free.

Again, RCS messaging and support is carrier-dependent. If they do support RCS for Android phones now, they likely should for iPhones when Apple adds support. But if they do support RCS now, perhaps they still charge that fee for Android phones using RCS?

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Unlike regular SMS, RCS can work over mobile data or Wi-Fi as well.

To me, this is the key. It may not be much of a big deal in the US, but for anyone communicating with people with foreign carriers, SMS and especially MMS can get extremely expensive. And the Messages app trying to switch from iMessage to SMS in poor signal areas or when you don’t have data has always been hit-and-miss - it can result in the message just never getting sent.

Due to Messages not really being useful for everybody (i.e. to try and communicate with Android users), it’s not used much in Europe as far as I can tell. I use it very little. Pretty much everybody uses WhatsApp, with the remainder using FB Messenger, Telegram or Signal. Perhaps this is an attempt by Apple to bring some of that traffic back into their own app.

Exactly that… very few people use SMS here in the UK (or Europe AFAIK) because it doesn’t support groups… its that simple. Whatsapp and the rest are an order of magnitude less friction (and you get to give meta your data as a bonus!).

I’ve found it weird for a long time that people in the US have one method to communicate with other iphone users, and other methods for other people 1-1? That seems tiresome at best.

A lot of it is that Apple makes the whole process pretty automatic. If you use Messages for everything, your messages will automatically detect and use iMessage for those who can receive it, falling back to SMS/MMS for everybody else (mostly Android users).

Although SMS doesn’t support group chats, Apple (and Android, I think) seem to do a good job of hiding it. I’ve got a few group chats with non-iPhone users. I assume the phone sends out multiple SMS messages for each message I send.

But in the US, most service providers include unlimited voice and SMS with even the cheapest plans (the cheap plans typically only meter data usage). So sending a lot of SMS is no big deal. But I agree it would have the potential to get very expensive for someone without unlimited texting.

I remember that in the past, I had a plan where I had an allowance of text messages and anything more than that was billed at $0.15 each. I was so worried about going over the limit that I told Verizon to disable text messages altogether for my account.

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Interesting that its seamless for you. That seems about the hardest way to do a simple thing I could imagine (behind the scenes). Do you get a ‘typing’ indication that someone is typing a reply to you? I presume not. Do MMSs work reliably? My experience says not, where the apps like whatsapp do photo and video sharing well. And of course the apps have browser clients to work on mac and windoze to make typing easier, and reactions.

Pretty much all plans in Europe have unlimited texts as well… perhaps because nobody uses it so it doesn’t cost anything to give that away. Texts are used for 2FA and businesses to message users as the lowest common denominator.

MMS supports group chats, and Apple uses that for non-iMessage groups, unless you turn off Settings / Messages / MMS messages- then it sends individual messages as SMS to each person. But that makes things weird for group chats - it’s like sending mail as BCC, as only you (the sender) will get replies. If you use the default, MMS groups are like reply-all for email.

To me that will be the major benefit of RCS. With MMS groups, you cannot remove yourself - if somebody sends to the group, you will get it. RCS, like iMessage groups, allows you to remove yourself from a group.

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People in the US use the Messages app for everything. Just one app. That’s all I use (except when I travel and people ask to use WhatsApp. But I’d rather have everything in one app.)

Here in the EU, with my friends/colleagues/family in smaller groups, Messages is the default. But if you have a wider group than that, it’s always WhatsApp, especially if you don’t know them that well, like a neighbourhood or a project or club.

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I also prefer to have all my communications in a single place, one that’s available on all my devices, and one that allows me to easily share my message store among multiple applications as well as port the store among multiple vendors.

That’s why I use email.

And fragmented message stores with fragmented recipients with non-interoperable applications that do not support granular searches or threading are why I avoid messaging applications altogether.

I fail to see messaging’s appeal.

I consider it rather odd when I hear that for messaging people in Europe supposedly default to WhatsApp. Seriously? So you’re all good with just handing over something as private as your contacts to a guy like Zuckerberg?

There are alternatives that take privacy seriously (eg. Threema). I suppose using something “everybody has” is the issue. Is it really just lowest common denominator then? Sounds almost like convenience trumping reason – something I always thought was more of an American talent. :wink:

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If it’s not an iMessage session, no, I don’t. But I’ve never really cared about that indication. If I am having the kind of conversation where I need an immediate response, I’ll place a phone call. (Unlimited voice calling as a part of a service plan is very convenient.)

I’ve never had a problem sharing images with my friends on Android phones using Messages. I assume those are going out using MMS.

Apple provides a Mac client for Messages. And you can pair your phone with your Mac to get SMS/MMS messages in the desktop app.

You are right about browser-based access, however. Messages does not appear to be available on icloud.com.