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The iPhone is officially getting RCS
And it's about time.
I’m taking a break from writing all the reviews and Black Friday posts I have to finish by Thanksgiving to bring you some pretty huge news: Apple has confirmed that it will bring RCS to the iPhone in 2024.
In a statement sent to 9to5Mac and TechRadar, the company says it will adopt the RCS Universal Profile “later next year.” The company says the new standard will provide “a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS,” to which many folks will say, “no shit.” Obviously, this doesn’t mean iMessage is going anywhere—in fact, Apple will continue to stress how much more secure it is than RCS once the feature’s rolled out.
And no, iMessage isn’t coming to Android.
Here’s Apple’s full statement, for reference.
Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.
So, how did we get here?
Over the past several years, RCS has sprouted up as the clear path forward for all device manufacturers to transition to in order to retire SMS once and for all. The technology dates back to the Stone Age (well, 1992) and limits character counts, image and video quality, and supported file types to the point where it’s only good for sending a quick “on my way” text and nothing more.
RCS offers a much richer messaging experience, hence its name Rich Communication Services. With features like typing indicators, high-res photo and video sharing, read receipts, and more, RCS is the preferred method of communication among many Android users. Google ushered the technology into the mainstream by making it the default messaging standard in the Android Messages app, and others like Samsung have also adopted the standard in their own texting apps.
But not Apple. Infuriatingly, Apple has never felt compelled to upgrade the texting experience in the iPhone’s Messages app with RCS, instead relying on SMS for users who don’t take advantage of iMessage. This has led to not just complaints from users, but a discriminatory attitude toward “green bubbles,” a.k.a. texts sent using SMS.
It’s been a conundrum in the United States for over 10 years: many folks believe that anyone they communicate with using “green bubbles” must be poor or of low social status since they don’t use an iPhone. Similarly, Android users get upset when trying to communicate with iPhone owners since they can’t send high-quality photos or longer texts.
From bullying classmates in school who use Android phones to attempts to permanently leave Apple’s walled garden and iMessage behind, the text messaging mess between iPhones and Android phones has boiled over more times than one could count, and it wasn’t until just a few years ago companies started to do something about it.
Google started running ads shaming Apple’s unwillingness to support SMS, Samsung followed suit just last month, and Nothing (the London-based startup founded by Carl Pei) announced this week that it was adding a hacked version of iMessage to the Phone (2) simply to try and solve the blue bubble vs. green bubble debacle.
The pressure hasn’t just stemmed from Apple’s competitors, however; regulators in the European Union are ready to sign new legislation that would essentially force the Cupertino tech giant to open iMessage to other platforms. Apple has argued that at least in Europe, iMessage isn’t big enough to require a law to open it up, but it’s clear that people are tired of Apple’s unwillingness to improve the non-iMessage experience.
So, in what seems like an effort to calm everyone down, Apple has announced RCS support for the iPhone. It’s a big change of tone for the company, what with Tim Cook publicly saying last year to just “buy your mom an iPhone” if you want a better messaging experience. Reports from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg also indicated that Apple wasn’t even thinking about RCS in the past, so today’s news is a monumental shift.
The company said it’s not coming until later next year, which sounds to me like it’ll be a feature in iOS 18. What the feature will look like is anyone’s guess; I’ve already seen some people on X and Threads claim it’ll be the death of the green bubble, but I don’t think that’s right. If anything, it’ll be a redefinition of the green bubble, one that’s associated with features like high-quality media and typing indicators. it’ll still mean you aren’t using iMessage, but at least you can talk to your friends with tech from a few years ago and not from 30+ years ago.
RCS is also end-to-end encrypted, which means your messages will be far more secure than they ever were over SMS. Apple still claims iMessage is more secure, likely referring to Advanced Data Protection which can lock all of your texts away and basically let you take them to the grave. Still, at least you’ll get to enjoy some level of security when messaging your Android friends.
The weirdest part of the whole story is just how randomly it happened. Apple sent a statement to two tech blogs, told them to keep a lid on it until 1 p.m. ET today, and called it a day. There’s no press release announcing the news, a big feature in The Verge or WSJ, or a public acknowledgment of the news from an executive. Just the statement and nothing more. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with this approach, but in my journalist/blogger brain, it makes zero sense given the magnitude of the announcement.
It’s unclear when we’ll get an idea of an exact ship date for RCS on iPhone, but I’ll let you know when we do. If you want some more insight into the whole blue bubble vs. green bubble argument, MKBHD’s video from last year is worth a watch.