On Twitter, the vice-president of Google in charge of Android multiplies the attacks against Apple. According to him, Apple is preventing the industry from progressing to promote its iMessage. What is it really ?
Should the SMS disappear? For Google, the debate has no place. For several years, the company has been campaigning for the replacement of this old solution by RCS (Rich Communication Services), a new standard that is more secure and, above all, more complete. Google deployed it in its application Android Messages in 2019 (under the name of “Chat”) and, since then, patiently awaits the total disappearance of the SMS.
Three years later, the SMS is far from having passed away. After long favoring a peaceful solution by politely asking Apple to collaborate, Google is stepping up. Hiroshi Lockheimer, its vice-president, accuses Apple of being the source of all the evils of the RCS. Of course, the reality is more nuanced.
Blue bubble versus green bubble
Since 2011, iPhones have supported two messaging protocols. Apple obviously offers the essential SMS but also iMessage, a proprietary solution reserved for the brand’s devices. In the United States in particular, iMessage is essential. There, where the iPhone is the majority (almost 60% market share according to Statcounter), applications like WhatsApp Where facebook messenger do not have the same success as in Europe.
For some Americans, communicating by SMS rather than iMessage (with a green bubble rather than a blue one) is a sign of social failure. Some only buy an iPhone so they can be part of the “elite” of messaging.
It is precisely on this point that Google is attacking Apple. In an article, the Wall Street Journal reveals the extent of this “bubble war”. His investigation gives the example of teenagers being harassed at school because they would not have access to iMessage (their messages are green). Hiroshi Lockheimer accuses Apple “to use intimidation to sell products”. According to him, locking iMessage is a well thought out strategy. After provoking a lively debate, he then published a thread Twitter to call Apple to reason by adopting the RCS standard. The solution would suit Google well.
Is Google right?
On paper, it’s hard to prove Google wrong. If Apple were to adopt RCS in a future iOS update, it would improve the lives of millions, if not billions, of users. Messages sent between iPhone and Android smartphones would be encrypted, enriched (receipt receipts, message composition indicator, high definition photos and videos, group conversations, etc.) and all of this would be done automatically.
It would suffice to insert a telephone number, the iPhone would then detect if its correspondent has an RCS compatible terminal. In the end, everyone would win and Apple might even keep iMessage for iOS/macOS conversations.
However, would this really solve the problem of harassment described by the wall street journal ? Unless Apple decides to share the blue bubbles of its iMessages with the RCS (which we highly doubt) or release iMessage on Android (which we doubt even more), many people will probably continue to prefer communications between iPhones.
Hiroshi Lockheimer plays on emotion to put public opinion on his side; but no doubt knows that the real winner of this change would be Google which, for the first time in fifteen years, would not seem to be left behind by Apple when it comes to messaging (Google has been trying to compete with iMessage for ten years but fails each time). The only thing that could push Apple to adopt the RCS is privacy, a very important axis in its communication. Can Apple make do with unencrypted SMS, when a more reliable alternative exists?
RCS is not perfect
What Google does not say in its communication is that the RCS suffers from other defects which, for once, have little to do with Apple.
The first of them concerns its functioning. Initially, RCS messages had to pass through the servers of telephone operators. After having long hoped that everyone would play the game, Google had to face the facts in 2019. No operator intended to invest and the RCS was doomed to failure. As a result, Google has set up its own servers and itself ensures the transfer of an RCS from one Android smartphone to another. In the event that he ends up convincing Apple to join him, it is very likely that Apple will refuse to go through its competitor’s servers and set up its own infrastructure.
Another point that Google forgets to mention: it is itself responsible for the slow deployment of the RCS. For a long time, Google reserved for its application Android Messages support for the standard, no doubt to encourage as many users as possible to install it. The problem is that, with some manufacturers, other messaging applications are installed by default. Can you really imagine a person not interested in technologies going to the settings to change their SMS software to support RCS? On this aspect, Apple has always been a step ahead with its unique software imposing iMessage by default.
Finally, the other defect of the RCS concerns the enthusiasm of users. While there is no doubt that Americans are interested in this solution, Europe and Asia have favored third-party applications for a long time (WhatsApp, Messenger, instagram, Telegram, Signal, WeChat, etc.) The US has long had easier texting, partly because it’s free and works every time. Given its dominance in the United States and the lack of interest from the rest of the world, Apple may very well continue to pretend that RCS does not exist. The fact that Google insists so much on social networks proves one thing in any case: at present, Apple is ignoring its requests.