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Google wants to replace SMS with 'Chat'; a new update to Android's messaging mess

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 21 April 2018, 19:16 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

A decade-long problem plaguing Google's Android mobile operating system is about to be fixed. Google thinks it has figured out how to fix Android's texting problem. The company finally confirmed its plans to improve the messaging experience on Android and bring it on par with the likes of Apple's iMessage.

Google being Google, wants to release yet another unified message app at I/O - the annual developer's conference held by Google - this year. Google wants to rally its troops - carriers and phone makers - to work together and commit one standard for messaging. This standard is being called Rich Communications Services (RCS). The consumer name for the platform will be called "Chat". It's not an Apple iMessage clon and it isn't anything flashy. It's a simple upgrade to the simple text message known as SMS.

The Universal RCS profile works over Wi-Fi and LTE and uses the consumer's data plan. No need for those pesky 'SMS packs' anymore. RCS has been in the works since 2007 lead by GSMA, the mobile network operators trade body.

Google wants to kill SMS. The SMS that is present today, is no longer good enough for the consumers. This time around, Google will not be asking users to sign up for a brand new app - it has had so many over the years, that it is hard to keep up - and instead, it will bake these brand new features into the default texting app on most Android smartphones.

The RCS standard essentially ensures Android users have access to more advanced - read receipts, GIFs, etc - messaging features already present on third-party apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Viber. What Google is planning to bring with this update to Android Messages includes Smart Reply as seen in Allo, integration with Google Photos, the organisation of messages, improved search features, web-based desktop interface, and probably plenty of more stickers.

Wha Google is doing is unifying these messaging features across smartphones because, at the moment, cross-platform integration is a problem. For example, some features present on Samsung's messaging apps, may not necessarily work on a Lenovo smartphone.

Google says it has 55 carriers and 11 phone makers - Huawei, Motorola, LG, HTC, Sony and others - onboard so far that have agreed to this standard. What's even better is that if the receiver does not have Chat enabled or a smartphone that doesn't support it, the message will get converted into an SMS. It's the default fallback option. SMS isn't being phased out but it is being replaced. Users on smartphones without the Android Messages app can simply go to the Play Store and download it.

The only downside of 'Chat' is that since it is being implemented at the carrier level, it isn't as secure as other messaging apps that are IP-based. Those messaging apps offer end-to-end encryption.

The end of SMS?

The death of SMS is near but RCS is simply replacing SMS and not signalling the death knell. With instant messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage and others gain popularity, SMS usage is declining. With the 5G standard fast approaching, it is only a matter of time before SMS messages become irrelevant.

At the moment, Google is facing a huge problem. Most of the Android users depend on third-party messaging apps for daily communication. Google wants to change that, and so far, none of its efforts has helped. But with unifying carrier and phone makers, and bringing them on to a simple platform, Google might just win in the end. Google's Allo, it's most modern consumer messaging app, came way too late in the game. Widespread adoption never happened and Google's efforts failed.

With Universal RCS coming in later this year, the tide might just be turning. A new and improved version of Android Messages will definitely restrict the usage of SMS messages. At the moment, the only major company not supporting RCS is Apple. Google is essentially rallying companies in a bid to get Apple to adopt the standard.

What Google's Chat brings to the table is a universal and feature-rich platform that has no barriers to entry. Google will roll a lot of Allo into Chat and that is unification is the best way forward for the company that is fast losing out in the world of instant messaging. Google doesn't want to sell a product anymore. It wants to build a platform that everyone will want to be a part of.

The texting system on Android smartphones is terrible. Let's hope the efforts by Google pay dividends.

First published: 21 April 2018, 19:16 IST
 
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.

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