RCS: Unifying Messages, Unifying Friends

With so many different mobile devices, operating systems and applications available for messaging today, it can be a challenge to determine which combination of phone, OS and messaging app to use. It used to be that simple SMS (text) messages would work just fine for a quick message to a friend or colleague. However, today your friend may be almost exclusively on a private messaging service or have a mobile device that doesn’t like to play nice with other operating systems. This complicates things.

From SMS to MMS

One of the reasons why text messages have become so complicated is that SMS has not evolved very much since its popularity in the early ’00s. This is important because SMS is not just a feature of the phone—it’s a standard that is upheld and provided by mobile phone carriers (e.g., AT&T and Verizon). As you may remember, there was once a time when you had to pay to send a text to your friends. You may have even had to pay to receive them, too! This was a result of the carrier managing the new messaging technology and having to develop and maintain hardware and software to make sure that these texts could be sent across the network.

As texts were increasing in popularity, so was the smartphone. Soon, the phone carriers shifted their focus to making sure their networks could support smartphones using the Internet, email, GPS and mobile apps. During this time, SMS got a mediocre upgrade to MMS (Multimedia Message Service), which allowed for the delivery of images and video across its platform. Meanwhile, smartphones became capable of delivering complex, rich messaging experiences through applications like iMessage and Android Messages.

The challenge with these applications is that they can only be used with devices that have the applications on their devices. This is complicated more by the fact that iMessage and Android Messages are only available to users with their respective operating system (iOS and Android, respectively). Add to that additional messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp and others that do essentially the same things as iMessage and Android Message, and you can see where things get tricky. It’s almost commonplace now to ask a friend, “what’s the best way to get ahold of you?” and have them answer you with a messaging app you’ve never heard of before. This process can be frustrating, and that’s why there’s a new standard looking to improve the boring old text messages.

A New Standard

First, there was SMS, then MMS and now there is RCS (Rich Communication Services). RCS is the next generation of messaging services provided by your mobile phone carrier. Its ultimate aim is to replace SMS and MMS as the text messaging standard. It will be able to provide a slew of features currently only available in iMessage, Android Message or any number of private messaging apps, and, because it’s managed at a carrier level, it will work regardless of device type… unless you still carry an old Nokia.

What RCS will bring to the market ultimately helps consumers and businesses by breaking down the barrier of a phone and operating system. The RCS standard will allow businesses to take payments via messenger, and even potentially allow for chatbot management that does not have to adhere to a certain set of operating system standards to be developed. It will also enable users to launch video calls and share content like branded stickers over the network.

While there are still challenges with trying to adopt RCS as a communications standard, Google has recently stepped as its champion. This move will put Google on a level playing field with Apple when it comes to messaging applications. As this great article from Wired notes, mobile carriers are hard to work with, and getting everyone to adopt a new standard is a lengthy process. However, if it can be done, it will make communications easier for everyone.

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