Google said on Friday that Sprint will be the first domestic wireless provider to adopt Rich Communication Services (RCS), an upgrade to the aging Short Message Service (SMS) standard.
RCS enables a host of enhancements not possible over SMS including high-resolution photo and video sharing, confirmation that a recipient has read your message, group chat and freedom from that annoying 160 character limit.
RCS isn’t exactly a new concept (it was conceived in 2007 with the initial release pushed out in 2012) nor are the features it delivers.
Roughly a decade ago, the wireless landscape looked nothing like it does today. Wireless carriers, which for years had made their money selling service plans that focused on metered talk minutes, were now marketing unlimited text messaging as their key perk.
It wasn’t long before services like BlackBerry Messenger and Apple’s iMessage came along, offering users a way to circumvent carrier texting and rendering SMS-focused service plans useless. As additional third-party messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger emerged over the years, SMS more or less fell by the wayside.
As mentioned, RCS has been around for years with several carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile having launched apps based on the technology under various names. What Google is looking to do now, however, is get everyone on the same page by baking support for RCS into the standard Android Messenger app… or at least, that seems to be the goal. As The Verge highlights, Messenger is just one of the three messaging apps that Google ships on its Pixel phones (Allo for consumers, Messenger for carriers and Hangouts for enterprise).
Google says that come next year, all new Android devices from Sprint will come with Messenger for Android pre-loaded as the default SMS and RCS messaging experience. Those currently using select LG and Nexus phones from Sprint will have their messaging experience upgraded automatically via app update. Furthermore, those using other Android devices can grab the Messenger app from the Play Store should they so choose.
One can’t help but wonder if this unifying tactic is too little, too late. Third-party apps like those mentioned above already have massive user bases and advanced features like end-to-end encryption. As of this past February, for example, WhatsApp said it had more than a billion active monthly users. I’m struggling to see how a carrier messaging app is going to gain much headway in an already crowded and established market but I digress.
The search giant said it looks forward to launching RCS with more partners in the coming months.
Last image via Dieter Bohn, Twitter