It's taken the better part of half a decade, but the Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol finally has a path to ubiquity in the US. Following similar announcements from T-Mobile and AT&T earlier in the year, Verizon (Engadget's parent company) said today it's working with Google to bring the next-generation SMS replacement to all of its customers.
By the end of the year, existing Verizon subscribers who use the carrier's Message+ app will get full access to the RCS suite, including real-time typing indicators and read receipts. Then, starting next year, all of the company's phones will come with the Messages by Google app preinstalled. Once that happens, RCS perks like end-to-end encryption for one-on-one conversations and the ability to send full-resolution photos will be an app away.
To say today's announcement is a significant milestone for Google would be an understatement. The company has been pushing RCS for years, and at times it seemed like the project was fated to languish like so many of Google's past mobile messaging efforts. Due to the need for carrier buy-in, the protocol didn't "just work" like iMessage, at least not initially.
In the early years, even if you went out of your way to download Google Messages, there was no guarantee you would get any of its promised benefits. That's because, more often than not, it was likely the person you were texting didn't have an RCS-capable app installed on their phone, nor were they with a carrier that was onboard with the platform. That meant most Android chats defaulted to SMS. With Google Messages now the default on most new Android phones in the US, that's a situation that should be the exception, not the norm. Today's announcement also leaves Apple in an odd position. Once an innovator in the space, the company is now on the outside looking in at a more broadly adopted ecosystem.