RCS Shame and Blame

Google launched a new campaign two weeks ago that looks to do two things: The first is to tout how far RCS has come since Google began pushing it a few years ago. The second is to shame Apple into supporting it on iOS.

Google will fail.

That isn't simply my opinion. While it is true I am an iOS user and I do prefer Apple's products above Google's, I also have seen this before. Let us hop in the Delorean and go back to 2004 when Real Networks (remember them!?!) waged a similar campaign against Apple, but that time it was to allow the iPod to play music purchased outside of the iTunes Music Store.

In August of that year, they launched the Freedom for Music Choice website. On that page, they went through many, many reasons why Apple needed to allow an iPod to play purchased music sold by... Real Networks. Of course, it didn't hurt their cause to say it would help Microsoft and others too. On and on the page goes and they all lead to the same conclusion: Apple should open the iPod to play more than .m4p music.

Guess how that turned out. It's 2022 and while the iPod is dead, the list of supported file formats never changed. Only a month later is the final site update and the rest is history.

So, how does this factor into RCS? Simple: Apple is similarly in no position to need to make a change. Jon Porter at The Verge has more about what Google's trying to do here.

The search giant has a new “Get The Message” website that lays out a familiar set of arguments for why Apple should support the standard, revolving around smoother messaging between iPhone and Android devices. Naturally, there’s also a hashtag to really get those viral juices flowing.

To fix this, Google has been dropping a series of not-so-subtle hints in recent months for Apple to support RCS, which offers most (though not all) of the features of iMessage in a protocol that’s usable across both iOS and Android. The company said it hoped “every mobile operating system… upgrades to RCS” onstage at its annual developer conference this year as well as in various tweets over the months.

The Verge

Sound familiar? Google is running the exact same playbook as Real Networks did, hoping they can convince Apple to change their minds about RCS.

Is RCS better than SMS? Yes. It has all the creature comforts we're all used to from iMessage, Signal, Telegram, and other chat apps. Has Google taken the lead on getting RCS actually implemented? Absolutely. It's the default protocol on their own app and they're getting carrier support. I believe they may have even enabled end-to-end encryption by default when using Google's own messages app.

So why won't Apple relent? Easy: iMessage is lock-in. They have an advantage and will lean on it. Is it fair or right? It depends on who you ask. Regardless, there is only one way in which Apple's hand will be forced: when SMS is no longer active. Unfortunately, so many services are using it, it will be years from an announcement to the actual decommissioning date even if it was announced tomorrow, it would be 2-4 years before Apple would have to do something.

Google has botched its messaging apps so many times. Hangouts was amazing and they killed it. Duo and Allo and Meet and everything else is a complete mess. This, combined with their inability to stay focused on messaging has not helped.

To me, the answer is simple: Google should build the best messaging app they can, base it on RCS, give it every advantage over iMessage, and grow it to be a powerful messaging app. Then stick with it! No more squirrel levels of attention in this realm already. Make Apple's customers want it! And, make it exclusive to Android.

In other words, compete.

iMessage was Apple doing what Blackberry did with BBM. The only difference is the SMS fallback, which BBM lacked.

Apple didn't ask for permission to build iMessage. Google needs to do the same with RCS.