Google's rollout of its RCS-based "Chat" in the Messages app is now complete, delivering on the years-long promise of a better, universal messaging standard on Android. But, it's still not the "iMessage for Android" many of us hoped it might be. And, perhaps ironically, it's Apple that's standing in the way of that.
In case you've lived under a rock for the last couple of years, Google's been rolling out a new RCS messaging initiative it calls "Chat" via its Messages app. It's based on the Universal Profile RCS standard (courtesy of its Jibe acquisition back in the day), and it adds extra messaging features like read receipts, better group chats, typing indicators, higher-quality media, and more. Originally the hope was carriers could handle the rollout of new RCS-based messaging, but they botched it by refusing to implement cross-compatible standards until last year. Thankfully, Google decided to circumvent their dithering, delivering us messaging salvation in the face of their failure to cooperate for consumer interests.
As of today, Google claims that its rollout is now worldwide, making RCS messaging available to Android-using customers everywhere via its Messages app. Essentially, this is a universal solution. Customers on incompatible carriers can connect directly to Google's Jibe for RCS messaging, and those on carriers that are compatible with the Universal Profile standard can still use the same app while connecting to their carrier's servers instead. In short, whether your carrier supports it or not, you can send RCS messages courtesy of Google's app. Short of bypassing the carriers entirely, this is basically the ideal solution.
Since Android has somewhere between 72% and 85% of the world's smartphone market share, this basically means Google is almost single-handedly responsible for rolling out RCS worldwide — with one very significant exception. In either case, the market balance is iOS, and Apple's iPhones don't support RCS messaging.
...there's no reason Chat and iMessage can't be made at least partially compatible — short of Apple's failure to connect them.
Many (including me) had hoped Apple might be support RCS messaging in its latest iPhones as a result of GSM Association requirements regarding 5G standards, but the new iPhone 12 landed with 5G but without RCS support. Although Apple was reportedly "in discussions" to support RCS last year, there hasn't been any news on the subject since then. And until iPhones support it, messages between Android and iOS devices will still fall back to ancient SMS. Since Apple won't bring iMessage to Android, and since RCS and the Universal Profile are open standards Apple could implement at any time, either way, it's on Apple to plug the gap here, as its lack of action on either front widens the messaging gap between the closed iOS bubble and the rest of the world.
This further entrenches the two separate messaging bubbles. Both iMessage and RCS/Chat now support many of the same popular features, like higher quality media, message reactions, and typing indicators, and there's no reason Chat and iMessage can't be made at least partially compatible — short of Apple's failure to connect them. But that's not the only thing Apple's holding back due to its failure to implement RCS standards.
It's time for Apple to get off its hypocritical high horse
Although Apple is among the first to champion its privacy-centric approach to basically everything, whenever someone with an iPhone messages someone on Android, they get that SMS-based green bubble fallback. With Google's RCS system soon to support end-to-end encryption, Apple's leaving its customers' messages to anyone with an Android device (read: the majority of this planet) unsecured, casting a disingenuous shadow over its claims that privacy is a "core value." If Apple genuinely cared about privacy, it would be doing everything possible to avoid that insecure SMS-based fallback.
Even if we can't get iMessage on Android, Apple's failure to support RCS messaging and the Universal Profile standards isn't just holding back messaging efforts worldwide, it's also standing in the way of its own customers' privacy now that Google is committed to supporting end-to-end encryption for the standard. It's time for Apple to get off its hypocritical high horse and adopt RCS — if not for the good of messaging, then at a minimum for its own customers and the privacy values that it claims to uphold.