The green bubble-blue bubble divide may be getting smaller soon. Apple has confirmed it will support the RCS messaging standard that it's long eschewed. That's not to say that messages from Android devices will no longer appear green on Apple's Messages app. It does mean that texts from iPhones to non-iOS devices will support the newer Rich Communication Services protocol, meaning they will not have to go through the aging SMS (and MMS) system. In a statement, Apple said "We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS."
That support will "work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users." With new features like voice memo transcriptions and Check In that aren't available on RCS, iMessage could still outshine default text messaging apps on Android. It also means there might not be change to any of the colors of the conversation bubbles.
Google has long taken potshots at Apple for not supporting RCS, saying the texting experience between iPhones and non-iPhones is so outdated it might as well be using a pager. With RCS support, messages between Android and iOS devices will be more secure (than over SMS), while media can be shared at higher quality.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Google said that it was happy to see Apple support RCS. “We welcome Apple’s participation in our ongoing work with GSMA to evolve RCS and make messaging more equitable and secure, and look forward to working with them to implement this on iOS in a way that works well for everyone,” Google posted on X.
A GSMA spokesperson told Engadget earlier this year that the RCS Universal Profile (UP) "provides the industry with an open, consistent and global messaging service across networks and devices. It simplifies interoperability and enables OEMs and OS providers to achieve scale and give consumers a richer and more consistent messaging experience regardless of device or network."
It has not been entirely clear why Apple has resisted adopting RCS until now, though security and potential for spam are both possible factors. It took until August this year for Google to enable end-to-end encryption (E2EE) in all RCS group chats in its Messages app for Android and Wear, while E2EE has been available for individual conversations since 2021. Compare that to chats in WhatsApp and iMessage, which have been encrypted since the 2010s, and it's clear that RCS is fairly late to offer this security feature.
It's not yet evident exactly when Apple plans to enable support for RCS UP, though the statement said "later next year." Today's announcement just happens to fall on the date that's the deadline for companies to file challenges at the European Union's General Court. Apple is reportedly looking to challenge the EU's decision to put all of the App Store on a digital antitrust list under its Digital Markets Act.
In September, Apple launched the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro, which are the company's first phones to come with USB-C charging ports in place of Lightning. This week, we also saw news about the release of the Qi 2 wireless charging standard with the new iPhones among the first available devices compatible with the updated protocols.
Whether it was brought on by EU regulations or other motivations, it's clear Apple is opening up parts of its walled garden to play nice with other devices. And maybe, just maybe, you won't have to "buy your mom an iPhone."
Update, November 16, 2023, 7:00PM ET: This story was updated with a statement from Google.
Update, November 17, 2023, 1:25PM ET: This story was updated with additional context around the availability of end-to-end encryption on RCS and other messaging platforms.