The GSM Association will officially launch Rich Communications Services as an advanced SMS replacement on November 17.
While RCS and SMS will be compatible in some ways, the former standard will allow for iMessage-like features like file transfers, audio messaging, video sharing, conference calling, location sharing and live sketching. Well, it won’t be anywhere near as amazing as Invisible Ink or lasers, but as applied to an interoperable standard, we’ll take it.
Over 150 devices on the market currently are capable are supporting the RCS. 58 carriers worldwide will be on the launch pad — in the US, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile have signed onto the new standard.
Here’s where the fragmentation begins, though: Google has decided to offer its own cloud servers for RCS — a service it brands as Jibe — and has been able to recruit Sprint to use them to launch its service. Starting next year, all Android phones on the network will come pre-loaded with Google’s Messenger app “as the default SMS and RCS messaging experience.” Some LG and Nexus phones will support RCS chat right now with a Messenger update, now in distribution.
Google has been pushing Jibe hard to other carriers and is expecting to nail more deals down soon — the big G gets money from carriers while the carriers don’t have to worry about maintaining their own servers as they’ve done with SMS. In terms of the competitive scene, security and privacy, that’s a ball of yarn within itself.
Of course, this drags Mountain View’s approach to messaging on Android into focus as we see Google’s Messenger become just a little more like iMessage and Facebook Messenger just by being a default. Allo, which has the quickest potential to provide way more advanced messaging features in combination with access to service bots like Google Assistant, is arguably trying to cannibalize users from “the default.” And Hangouts? Well, it’s a hot enterprise mess that’s still trying to figure out where to go now.
As The Verge‘s Dieter Bohn describes the situation, Messenger is more a play for carriers while Google is attempting to keep itself in the consumer convenience market with Allo. At this point, we doubt consumers are noticing a difference between the two that will make them switch in droves.