Google Messages has become the app to watch now that new leadership has been tasked with cleaning up some of sprawl created by projects of the past. A new dogfood build of the app made it into circulation, and it contains signs for some important features people have been looking forward to. For those with a desire to keep their messages private, Messages will soon support end-to-end encryption over RCS. And if you're a Google Fi user, get ready to see some huge improvements to the Messages for Web service that will bring browser-based access to calls and voicemail.

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.

RCS to get end-to-end encryption

RCS has drawn plenty of criticism — much of it justified — but one of the leading complaints has centered around security and privacy. Some people see this as a major oversight while others think it was an intentional omission; but in either case, it's widely accepted that RCS should have supported end-to-end encryption from the beginning. This will eventually become possible once RCS APIs open to third party apps, but in the meantime it looks like Google Messages will provide its own answer.

The v6.2 update contains a sizable number of new strings that discuss end-to-end encryption, but only at a high level. We can see some of the basic interactions, but not the precise methods of encryption and managing secure keys.

strings

<string name="encrypted_rcs_message">End-to-end encrypted Rich Communication Service message</string>

<string name="metadata_encryption_status">End-to-end encrypted message</string>
<string name="send_encrypted_button_content_description">Send end-to-end encrypted message</string>

<string name="not_yet_sent_e2ee_dialog_body">This message is still trying to be sent end-to-end encrypted to the recipient. You can also send the message as an SMS/MMS instead.</string>

<string name="encryption_fallback_title">Send unencrypted messages?</string>
<string name="encryption_default_fallback_body">"SMS/MMS texts aren't end-to-end encrypted. To send with end-to-end encryption, wait for an improved data connection or send messages now as SMS/MMS."</string>
<string name="encryption_sent_fallback_body">"SMS/MMS texts aren't end-to-end encrypted. To send with end-to-end encryption, wait until %1$s has data connection or send messages now as SMS/MMS."</string>
<string name="encryption_fallback_dialog_accept_button">Send unencrypted</string>
<string name="encryption_fallback_dialog_decline_button">Wait</string>

<string name="e2ee_conversation_tombstone">Chatting end-to-end encrypted with %s</string>
<string name="e2ee_fail_to_send_retry_description">Resend as chat</string><string name="encrypted_rcs_message">End-to-end encrypted Rich Communication Service message</string>

<string name="metadata_encryption_status">End-to-end encrypted message</string>
<string name="send_encrypted_button_content_description">Send end-to-end encrypted message</string>

<string name="not_yet_sent_e2ee_dialog_body">This message is still trying to be sent end-to-end encrypted to the recipient. You can also send the message as an SMS/MMS instead.</string>

<string name="encryption_fallback_title">Send unencrypted messages?</string>
<string name="encryption_default_fallback_body">"SMS/MMS texts aren't end-to-end encrypted. To send with end-to-end encryption, wait for an improved data connection or send messages now as SMS/MMS."</string>
<string name="encryption_sent_fallback_body">"SMS/MMS texts aren't end-to-end encrypted. To send with end-to-end encryption, wait until %1$s has data connection or send messages now as SMS/MMS."</string>
<string name="encryption_fallback_dialog_accept_button">Send unencrypted</string>
<string name="encryption_fallback_dialog_decline_button">Wait</string>

<string name="e2ee_conversation_tombstone">Chatting end-to-end encrypted with %s</string>
<string name="e2ee_fail_to_send_retry_description">Resend as chat</string>

Sending messages with E2E encryption will be fairly automatic. It's not entirely clear if all RCS messages will automatically be part of an encrypted session or if it requires activation, but all messages sent after that will be secured automatically.

In the event that you're stuck without acceptable data reception, it's possible RCS messaging won't be possible. The new strings show that Messages will suggest sending unencrypted messages via SMS/MMS in this scenario.

Text also confirms that Google Messages can share location information with E2E encryption enabled. This label is probably just confirmation for paranoid users, but it does raise the possibility that some other types of messages won't be supported.

<string name="location_attachment_picker_send_encrypted_content_description">Send an end-to-end encrypted message with selected location %1$s</string>

The last notable line includes something even more interesting. A new line from Google Messages reveals that users will be able to allow third-party apps to access end-to-end encrypted messages.

<string name="etouffee_to_telephony_setting_title">Let other apps access end-to-end encrypted messages</string>

Up to this point, Google hasn't given app developers an official API to replace RCS apps or to interact with the messages that have been received, but this functionality is anticipated in Android R. No official announcements spell out how this will work, but we'll probably get something more concrete fairly soon.

Google Fi meets Messages for Web

Many of us make great use of Google Messages for Web, the simple web service that links to your phone so you can send and receive messages from the comfort of a browser. But there are those that realize this pales in comparison to the great integration between Google Voice and Hangouts, some of which eventually came to Google Fi subscribers. Regardless of the device you were using, it was possible to see and respond to new calls, voicemails, and text messages directed to your Google Voice or Fi number, even with your phone turned off. Google Hangouts may be going away, but these great features will stick around and likely improve.

Text originally added in Google Messages v6.1 explained that Google Fi users would be able to sign into Messages for Web with their account instead of scanning a QR code. As part of the message, it also mentioned interacting with text, calls, and voicemail, even if the linked phone was turned off.

<string name="cms_no_qr_welcome_title_text">Enjoy texts, calls and voicemail on the web even when your phone is off</string>
<string name="cms_no_qr_welcome_bottom_text">"Get started
1. Go to %s
2. Sign in to Google Fi (you can skip the QR code)"</string>

The latest update expanded on this with a substantial addition to the text. Google Messages will soon get a dedicated settings screen for Google Fi users, along with expanded functionality on the Messages for Web site. Perhaps it's time to rename that feature?

Google Messages will offer to keep your message history synced with your Fi account, so you'll be able to see your conversation in a browser without scanning any QR codes or turning on a phone. You'll still have to do a big sync to get the entire history loaded from your phone onto Google's servers, but from that point on, most incoming messages will sync automatically. There is an option to prevent syncing photos and videos until you're connected to Wi-Fi.

You can break this connection or delete message history if you want. If you do, your phone will keep its message history.

strings
<string name="fi_settings_title">Google Fi</string>
<string name="fi_account_login_title">Sign in to Google Fi</string>
<string name="fi_account_login_summary">Sync texts, calls and voicemails across screens</string><string name="fi_account_confirmation_title">Sync your conversations to enjoy texts, calls and voicemail on the web</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_phone_link">Text or call on the web while your phone is off</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_security">Messages stores your information securely on Google servers</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_sync">Your conversations stay synced across screens</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_ok_button">Sync conversations</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_cancel_button">Cancel</string><string name="fi_settings_download_over_wifi_title">Sync media only over Wi-Fi</string>
<string name="fi_settings_download_over_wifi_summary">Some video and images will not be available across all devices when Wi-Fi is off</string><string name="fi_settings_devices_status_title">Status: %1$s</string>
<string name="fi_settings_devices_status_title_default">Status: Loading</string>
<string name="fi_settings_devices_status_summary">Pair phone and computer</string>
<string name="fi_settings_device_status_unpaired">Unpaired</string>

<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_title">Stop syncing messages, calls and voicemail across screens?</string>
<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_message">You’ll be able to text from your phone and computer, but calls and voicemail won’t be available on the web</string>
<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_negative">Cancel</string>
<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_positive">Stop syncing</string>

<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup">Also delete synced conversations?</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_message">If you delete synced conversations, they’ll be available only on your phone</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_dialog_negative">Keep</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_dialog_neutral">Cancel</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_dialog_positive">Delete</string>

<string name="fi_account_verify_fail_message">Failed to validate Google Fi account</string>
<string name="fi_account_invalid_fi_account">Wrong account. Sign in with your Google Fi account.</string>
<string name="fi_account_preference_button">Stop sync and sign out</string>
<string name="fi_settings_opt_out_failed">Can’t stop sync and sign out right now. Try again later.</string>
<string name="fi_settings_opt_out_in_progress">Stopping sync and signing out.</string>

<string name="fi_settings_sync_preference_title_synced">Sync complete</string>
<string name="fi_settings_sync_preference_title_syncing">Sync in progress</string>
<string name="fi_settings_sync_preference_summary">Messages, calls and voicemail stay current across screens</string><string name="fi_settings_title">Google Fi</string>
<string name="fi_account_login_title">Sign in to Google Fi</string>
<string name="fi_account_login_summary">Sync texts, calls and voicemails across screens</string>

<string name="fi_account_confirmation_title">Sync your conversations to enjoy texts, calls and voicemail on the web</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_phone_link">Text or call on the web while your phone is off</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_security">Messages stores your information securely on Google servers</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_sync">Your conversations stay synced across screens</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_ok_button">Sync conversations</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_cancel_button">Cancel</string>

<string name="fi_settings_download_over_wifi_title">Sync media only over Wi-Fi</string>
<string name="fi_settings_download_over_wifi_summary">Some video and images will not be available across all devices when Wi-Fi is off</string>

<string name="fi_settings_devices_status_title">Status: %1$s</string>
<string name="fi_settings_devices_status_title_default">Status: Loading</string>
<string name="fi_settings_devices_status_summary">Pair phone and computer</string>
<string name="fi_settings_device_status_unpaired">Unpaired</string>

<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_title">Stop syncing messages, calls and voicemail across screens?</string>
<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_message">You’ll be able to text from your phone and computer, but calls and voicemail won’t be available on the web</string>
<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_negative">Cancel</string>
<string name="fi_settings_disable_multidevice_dialog_positive">Stop syncing</string>

<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup">Also delete synced conversations?</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_message">If you delete synced conversations, they’ll be available only on your phone</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_dialog_negative">Keep</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_dialog_neutral">Cancel</string>
<string name="fi_settings_delete_backup_dialog_positive">Delete</string>

<string name="fi_account_verify_fail_message">Failed to validate Google Fi account</string>
<string name="fi_account_invalid_fi_account">Wrong account. Sign in with your Google Fi account.</string>
<string name="fi_account_preference_button">Stop sync and sign out</string>
<string name="fi_settings_opt_out_failed">Can’t stop sync and sign out right now. Try again later.</string>
<string name="fi_settings_opt_out_in_progress">Stopping sync and signing out.</string>

<string name="fi_settings_sync_preference_title_synced">Sync complete</string>
<string name="fi_settings_sync_preference_title_syncing">Sync in progress</string>
<string name="fi_settings_sync_preference_summary">Messages, calls and voicemail stay current across screens</string>

Unfortunately, there are a couple limits and some mixed messages. The first big catch appears to be that syncing with Google Fi prohibits the use of RCS. A message explicitly says that "chat features" must be turned off. While it makes some sense that the syncing system doesn't support RCS messages, it's harder to rationalize why voice calls and non-RCS messages wouldn't be supported.

<string name="fi_account_rcs_enabled_dialog_title">Using chat features?</string>
<string name="fi_account_rcs_enabled_dialog_body">To get messaging and voice calls on your computer, turn off chat features. %1$s</string>
<string name="fi_account_rcs_enabled_dialog_negative_button">Cancel</string>
<string name="fi_account_rcs_enabled_dialog_positive_button">Turn off</string>

The other notable limit is a bit more confusing, or at least it's unclear exactly how it's meant to be interpreted. Many of the new strings talk about pairing with and syncing across multiple devices, but many others discuss signing in with only a single phone or replacing the existing phone in your account with a different one. Whether this actually impacts syncing is unclear, but it's hard to be sure without more context.

strings
<string name="primary_device_changed_notification_action_sign_in">Sign in</string>
<string name="primary_device_changed_notification_body">If you stay signed in from the other phone, it will replace this phone on your Google Account. Or sign in from this phone to keep it on your account.</string>
<string name="primary_device_changed_notification_title">You have signed in on another phone</string><string name="fi_account_confirmation_change_primary_device_dialog_title">"You're signing in on a different phone"</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_change_primary_device_dialog_message">"You're already signed in from the primary phone for your Google Account. To replace your primary phone with this one, continue signing in."</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_change_primary_device_dialog_negative">Cancel</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_change_primary_device_dialog_positive">Sign in</string><plurals name="fi_settings_devices_status_paired">
<item quantity="other">Paired (%d devices)</item>
<item quantity="one">Paired (1 device)</item>
</plurals>

Transition Hangouts chat history

We all know Hangouts isn't long for this world as Hangouts Meet has stepped up to replace the video calling features, and the transition to Hangouts Chat has sorta started. That may solve your current needs, but you may not want to lose all of those conversations left over from long ago chats. Google Messages will add a simple tool to complete that transition process for you.

<string name="fi_account_confirmation_hangouts_title">Hangouts SMS/MMS is going away</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_hangouts_phone_link">Enjoy texts, calls and voicemail on the web even when your phone is off</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_hangouts_security">Conversations stay synced and secure on Google servers</string><string name="fi_account_confirmation_hangouts_description">"Before Hangouts SMS/MMS stops working, transfer your conversation histories to Messages %1$s"</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_hangouts_ok_button">Transfer conversations</string>
<string name="fi_account_confirmation_hangouts_cancel_button">Cancel</string>

If you're looking closely, these strings look quite a bit like those from the previous section. That's because this appears to be setting up the same syncing system, including cross-device texts, calls, and voicemail access. Outside of that, the text is pretty short and to the point.

The only question that seems to be unanswered is which messages this will sync, assuming it won't pick up everything. After all, the Hangouts app (and service) could have seen messages sent directly to your Hangouts account, those that came from Google Fi, and those that were received as direct SMS. Hangouts still won't be shut down until later this year, so we'll probably see more details before that time comes.

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