Apple Announces Intention to Support RCS Messages ‘Next Year’

Lance Ulanoff, reporting for TechRadar:

RCS or Rich Communication Services, a communications standard developed by the GSM Association and adopted by much of the Android ecosystem, is designed to universally elevate messaging communication across mobile devices. Even though Apple has been working with the group, it has until this moment steadfastly refused to add RCS support to iPhones. Now, however, Apple is changing its tune.

“Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe the RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users,” said an Apple spokesperson. [...]

When RCS does arrive on your best iPhone, though, it means the end of the “green bubble shame” for your best Android phone-owning friends, family, and coworkers. They’ll be able to send and receive high-resolution photos and videos from their phones to your iPhone. Group messaging could become platform agnostic. And they’ll be able to share their location with you through RCS-supported messaging.

There is, naturally, a wrinkle here. The RCS standard still doesn’t support end-to-end encryption. Apple, which has offered encrypted messaging for over a decade, is kind of a stickler about security. Apple says it won’t be supporting any proprietary extensions that seek to add encryption on top of RCS and hopes, instead, to work with the GSM Association to add encryption to the standard.

Color me surprised by Apple’s change of heart here. Also color me utterly unsurprised that Apple has no intention to support Google’s proprietary extensions to RCS that allow for E2EE. It’s a disgrace, in my opinion, that E2EE wasn’t a foundational part of the RCS spec from the start, but if Apple is going to support RCS, they should support RCS by-the-spec, not Google’s proprietary version.

I suspect that in practical terms, this might have almost no discernible effect on the user experience. RCS messages are not going to be blue — they’re either going to stay green, just like SMS/MMS messages, or perhaps Apple will add a new color (purple?) for RCS. I suspect RCS messages will just remain green though, and it’ll be treated as what it is: the next generation of phone-carrier-based messaging. I think any initial coverage today framing this as the end of the green/blue disparity is totally wrong. It’s just about making green messages higher quality and more reliable. Update: I confirmed with Apple today that RCS messages will be green, just like SMS and MMS messages.

The best part of the experience, for users, is that RCS supports higher-resolution photos and videos. The worst part is that it’s not encrypted, and Apple caving and deciding to support it will expand, rather than contract, the amount of messaging that is not E2EE. And what’s the plan for when (if?) E2EE gets added to the official RCS spec? Will Apple then drop support for non-encrypted RCS messages? Or add some sort of indicator — a badge or different message color — to indicate which messages are truly encrypted and which are not?

There were also reports from just last year that RCS was being abused to send large amounts of spam in India — see reports here from The Verge and 9to5Google.

Thursday, 16 November 2023