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A Guide to RCS, and Why It Makes Texting So Much Better

Next year Verizon will join AT&T and T-Mobile to preload Android phones with Messages by Google as the default SMS app. This is a big win for RCS, the chat protocol that Google is pushing us all to adopt. But what exactly is RCS and why do you need it?

The Short Version: This is an upgrade from the standard SMS / MMS standards that smartphones have been using from the start. It brings better support for all the cool add-ons we’re used to in our messaging apps like read receipts and pictures, and it also adds extra layers of security.

Yes, it looks a lot like Apple’s iMessage, although its not that simple. It’s minus one application, and more than one Standard that apps can use.

The long version: RCS, which stands for Rich Communication Services, is a fundamental standard rather than an app like WhatsApp or Telegram. It requires carrier assistance to work, which is why support from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile is such a big deal (it now works in dozens of countries).

RCS enables features such as read receipts. 

Screenshot: Google via David Nield

The Messages app on Android, developed by Google, is the primary way to access everything RCS has to offer, although theoretically other apps can support the standard as well. One of the big questions about the future of RCS is whether or not Apple will agree to support it, putting Android users on an equal footing in the Messages app on iPhones and other Apple devices. .

SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) weren’t really designed for the modern way we communicate through our phones, and RCS is trying to solve this problem. It adds or improves support for sharing high-resolution images and videos, group chats, read receipts, video calls, and messages actually exceeding 160 characters.

You can add reactions to messages, see when someone else is typing, and drop extra stuff like GIFs, stickers, and your current position in conversations, features you might be used to and accept. standard in other applications.

There are also changes and upgrades behind the scenes. While SMS / MMS requires a data connection to your cellular service, RCS also works over cellular networks or Wi-Fi. If you don’t have a signal for some reason but can find a wireless network , your message can still get through.

As of June 2021, the standard also brings end-to-end encryption for one-to-one discussions. You should see a small padlock symbol next to the Send button in Messages (and a small padlock next to sent messages) confirming this. The feature should be enabled by default if you are chatting with someone using Messages with RCS enabled.

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