With AT&T Deal, Google Has Almost Won the RCS Messaging Wars
A few years ago, Google announced it was giving up on its much-maligned Allo chat platform. Instead, Google said it was going all-in on “Chat,” which is the branding it chose for Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging. That decision is finally starting to pay off with news that AT&T has agreed to ship all its phones with Google’s Messages app as the sole app for RCS. It joins T-Mobile in the Google partnership, leaving Verizon as the lone holdout.
RCS is a more advanced replacement for standard SMS text messages. The features are more akin to Apple’s iMessage, but it works on Android phones. If there were any other viable smartphone platforms, they could also implement RCS, which is an open standard. RCS offers longer messages, read receipts, typing indicators, high-resolution media, Wi-Fi messaging, and more. It’s a major upgrade over SMS, but it’s still hard to know if you’re going to get RCS/Chat functionality when you ping one of your contacts.
AT&T’s agreement to ship only Google Messages will increase the likelihood that your friends and family will be on a compatible RCS platform. The Messages app will offer to enable Chat automatically if it detects you are on a supported carrier, and making that the only messaging app preloaded on AT&T phones guarantees most of its customers will use it. Yes, this agreement even includes Samsung phones, which have long shipped with the Samsung Messages app. Samsung is one of the other big players in RCS, but it let carriers lead the way on RCS. That caused some annoying incompatibilities. Google is stepping in to eliminate that with its uncompromising support of the RCS Universal Profile.
Keep in mind, we’re not talking about Google Chat, which is another product altogether. Yes, the Chat branding for RCS might not have been the best idea, but it’s what we’re stuck with for the time being. Despite the confusing name, Google appears to be winning the RCS wars.
Google got tired of waiting around for carriers in late 2019 and began rolling out RCS to users in the Messages app. In late 2019, the major US carriers announced an RCS project that would have deployed a custom app and cross-platform messaging service. Luckily for all of us, this effort collapsed a few months later. You might not be crazy about running more of your data through Google, but I believe the system will work better with Google at the helm rather than cellular carriers.
We don’t know when exactly AT&T will switch to Messages on all its phones, but it should be soon. That will leave Verizon as the odd man out, but the pressure will increase on Big Red to adopt the Google default app now.