Google is turning on RCS for all in Android Messages as everyone wonders what took so long

So it’s that easy, huh?

android messages hero
Ryan Whitwam/IDG

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After years of false starts, empty promises, and a whole lot of frustration, Google has announced that it will be upgrading the stale SMS experience to RCS-powered chat. This change will bring an iPhone-like experience, with Wi-Fi support, read receipts, high-res media, and typing indicators. Google says it expects the new messaging service to be “broadly available in the U.S. by the end of year.”

So that’s that. After all this time, all Google had to do was flip a switch on their end, bypass the carriers, and give everyone what they wanted. The upgrade doesn’t seem to be tied to anything related to Android or OEMs specifically, so the question everyone should be asking is, “what the heck took so long?”

Apple has had its own RCS-style service in iMessage for the better part of a decade, and it completely cuts the carriers out of the equation. Meanwhile Google tried to build something similar in Allo and Hangouts, but it never really took off, mainly due to a lack of carrier support. Android Messages has been available for years, but its chat services have been limited at best. So it seems on the surface that something has changed.

While Google mentions at the end of its blog post that it’s “committed to working with our partners, including carriers and device makers, to provide a consistent and interoperable experience for everyone on Android,” it certainly feels like a last-straw move. It’s no secret that Google has been trying to get Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint on board with its messages vision for years with little to show for its efforts. Now it seems to be throwing up its hands up and cutting out the carriers completely.

The move follows a surprise partnership by the big 4 to “deliver the next generation of messaging to consumers and businesses.” Announced in late October, the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative is supposed to “accelerate the adoption of RCS” via “a single seamless, interoperable RCS experience across carriers, both in the U.S. and globally.”

That sounds an awful lot like what Google just announced, right down to the use of the word “seamless.” It could be that CCMI pushed Google over the edge, or that the partnership enabled Google to step in and do things on its own. Whichever the case, it’s about damn time.

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