Apple announced Thursday that it will add RCS support to iOS next year, resolving the widespread issue of text messaging compatibility between iPhones and Android smartphones but not eliminating the “green bubble” dread.
Critics have long argued that Apple’s refusal to support RCS has fragmented messaging ecosystems, particularly for Android users. Apple’s ecosystem exclusivity raised concerns about interoperability and user convenience in the tech community.
No more. Apple abruptly stated today that “RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS.” The company will add support next year, saying, “This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”
The major reversal follows Google’s repeated requests and public pressure on Apple to add RCS to iPhones. “People have talked about ‘green bubbles’ as an Android problem,” Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer tweeted last year, referring to the green bubble that appears when an Android user sends a message to an iPhone.
Apple will display RCS messages in green bubbles despite adopting it.
“We’re not requesting iMessage on Android from Apple. We want Apple to support RCS in iMessage like they do SMS/MMS. “Apple is holding back the industry and the user experience for Android and Apple customers by not incorporating RCS,” he tweeted.
Apple has been vocal about RCS. A year ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook dismissed the idea of RCS in iMessage and advised a conference attendee to buy their mom an iPhone.
RCS is a collaboration of industry players to upgrade SMS with richer texts and end-to-end encryption. Recently, Google, Samsung, and other companies, including telecom operators, have supported RCS for over 800 million users.
Critics say the disruption in group chats and interactions between Android and iPhone users has deterred many from switching to Android smartphones by design. In Apple’s legal battle with Epic Games, internal discussions revealed a conscious decision to keep iMessage in its ecosystem.
Apple released many internal documents during the legal dispute. These documents revealed a lengthy internal debate about bringing iMessage to Android. “In the absence of a strategy to become the primary messaging service for the bulk of cell phone users, I am concerned iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove obstacles to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief software executive, wrote in 2013.
In 2016, then-marketing chief Phil Schiller emailed Cook, “Moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us.” In the same year, a former Apple executive warned of “serious lock-in” from iMessage.
Google and many telecom operators recently urged EU regulators to classify iMessage as a “core” service under the new Digital Markets Act, forcing Apple to make the chat app fully compatible with rivals. As reported this month, Apple stated in a filing that it “expects to make” several policy changes to comply with the new guidelines next year.