The latest update to Google Messages is out and sporting much the same look as always. The major notes to be seen are in the teardown, which brings a few smaller details related to RCS settings and Verified SMS, hints at an auto-reply feature for spam messages, a change to the audio clip recorder, and a little refocusing on the upcoming Google Assistant integration.

Teardown

Disclaimer: Teardowns are based on evidence found inside of apks (Android's application package) and are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete information. It's possible that the guesses made here are wrong or inaccurate. Even when predictions are correct, there is always a chance that products could change or may be canceled. Much like rumors, nothing is certain until it's officially announced and released.

The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk. All screenshots and images are real unless otherwise stated, and images are only altered to remove personal information.

General RCS settings

While it may not be obvious to most users, the current RCS settings are actually shown per-line, meaning that phones with more than one SIM may have completely different settings. Google Messages is in the process of adding a new screen to contain global options.

/xml/preferences_application.xml
<PreferenceScreen android:title="@string/rcs_settings" android:key="@string/rcs_pref_key"/>

At the moment, there aren't actually any settings listed, but a placeholder has been added where these settings will exist. Unfortunately, that means there's not much more to say...

RCS status messages

RCS availability is still pretty limited and some implementations may be a bit fragile. To make it easier for users to get a grasp on what's going on and to diagnose problems when they occur, Google Messages will begin offering a simple status readout in the settings screen.

Status messages are generally pretty simple, letting users know that their phone is connecting to a remote server, setting up chat features, or if everything is ready to go. Alternatively, if there's something wrong, the status message will let you know if the carrier doesn't have support, if there's something wrong with your device, or perhaps your SIM card isn't detected. Many of the messages also include a placeholder for additional details if they are provided by the carrier.

strings
<string name="rcs_status_label">Status: </string>
<string name="rcs_status_connected">Connected</string>
<string name="rcs_status_connected_desc">Chat features are ready for use.</string>
<string name="rcs_status_connecting">Setting up…</string>
<string name="rcs_status_connecting_desc">Trying to verify your phone number…</string>
<string name="rcs_status_connecting_desc_internet_on">Connection in progress</string>
<string name="rcs_status_connecting_desc_max_amount">Maximum number of retry attempts reached, please try again tomorrow.</string>
<string name="rcs_status_connecting_desc_phone_number">Trying to verify %1$s</string>
<string name="rcs_status_disconnected">Disconnected</string>
<string name="rcs_status_disconnected_desc">Chat features are temporarily unavailable. Check your internet connection or try again later.</string>
<string name="rcs_status">rcs_status</string><string name="rcs_not_available_learn_more_title">Chat features unavailable for this device.</string>
<string name="rcs_not_available_desc_carrier_not_supported">Your carrier does not currently support this feature. %1$s</string>
<string name="rcs_not_available_desc_device_not_supported">Your device does not currently support this feature. %1$s</string>
<string name="rcs_not_available_desc_sim_absent">No compatible SIM card detected. %1$s</string>Excerpt from /xml/rcs_preferences_per_subscription.xml
<com.google.android.apps.messaging.ui.appsettings.RcsStatusPreference android:layout="@layout/rcs_status" android:key="@string/rcs_status" android:dependency="@string/enable_rcs_pref_key"/>

All told, it's just a pretty standard status readout, but with some of the confusion and complaints that have popped up with the slow and inconsistent rollout of RCS, something to provide a little feedback is probably what most people need.

Follow-up: Verified SMS

The last couple of Messages updates contained clues about a Verified SMS feature, which may only verify businesses rather than all callers. The small addition in this update is a bundle of responses that inform users either that verification is in progress, couldn't be completed, or that a caller is actually a spammer.

<string name="vsms_dialog_title_verifing">Checking sender…</string>
<string name="vsms_dialog_message_verifing">Until the sender is verified, be careful with links and content in this message.</string>
<string name="vsms_dialog_title_unverified">Sender could not be verified</string>
<string name="vsms_dialog_message_unverified">Be careful with links and content in this message.</string>
<string name="vsms_dialog_message_spam">%1$s %2$s\10\10If you report spam, this message will be shared with Google and possibly your carrier.</string>

When the verification is still in progress or couldn't be completed, the messages include reminders to be careful with following links or sending replies. However, confirmed spammers can be reported directly to Google, and potentially your carrier, where they can take harsh action to prevent spammers from continuing their dishonest ways. (Did that sound sarcastic enough? No? I'll try harder next time.)

Spam auto-reply?

I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but a couple new lines popped up that refer to an auto-reply feature to spam. It's not really clear if these are the names of spam identification methods, a type of reply that would be sent, or maybe a method of dealing with spam — for example, replying to the spammer directly or forwarding the spam as a report to a carrier.

<string name="spam_auto_reply_heuristic_number">number</string>
<string name="spam_auto_reply_heuristic_reply">reply</string>

Regardless of the meaning, the thing I like seeing most is actual automated behaviors to deal with spam, even if it's just a matter of taking a few taps out of the equation.

Change to audio clip recording

Several months ago, Google Messages had a really obnoxious flaw in the attachments view. As you scrolled down, it was possible to set your finger on the audio clip recording button as part of a scroll, and that would immediately begin recording. It was eventually changed to require a short delay, so now you simply hear a beep on first contact, then recording begins about 2-3 seconds later.

The latest update appears to be preparing another change to that behavior. The instructional text for that button has been reworded to instruct users to double-tap and continue holding to record an audio message.

--new--
<string name="audio_record_view_content_description">Double-tap and hold to record audio</string>
--old--
<string name="audio_record_view_content_description">Touch and hold to record audio</string>

I assume this change might be made to give allowances to people that scroll slowly, especially those that might require screen readers or have any disability that gets in the way of fast scrolling. There's no denying a double-tap and hold gesture would be unlikely to happen by accident.

Strangely, the button behavior remains the same for me after updating, which has me wondering if there's perhaps a plan to test the new gesture with a limited audience before rolling it out to everybody, or maybe this will only happen for people based on behavior. For example, it might change if you repeatedly hit the audio recorder and immediately delete the clip. I can see why the developers might not want to fully require this gestures, as it may also prove to be too challenging for uncoordinated hands.

Follow-up: Google Assistant integration

In the smallest of small updates, there's a rephrasing for the upcoming Assistant integration. The setting that enables Assistant will now be called "Assistant suggestions" instead of "Google Assistant in Messages." There's also a change to the summary that makes it a bit wordier and a little more open-ended with the features Assistant will offer.

--new--
<string name="assistant_preference_title">Assistant suggestions</string>
<string name="assistant_suggestions_tooltip_text">Messages creates suggestions while keeping your conversation on device. Tap them to see &amp; share more info from the Google Assistant. &lt;br/&gt; &lt;br/&gt; &lt;a href&gt;Learn more&lt;/a&gt; &amp; configure in &lt;a href&gt;Settings&lt;/a&gt;.</string>
--old--
<string name="assistant_preference_title">Google Assistant in Messages</string>
<string name="assistant_suggestions_tooltip_text">Use the Google Assistant to get info about movies, restaurants, and more.\10\10Configure suggestions in Settings</string>

Download

The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.

Messages
Messages
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free