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Google tells Apple to 'fix text messaging' in bid to promote RCS protocol

iMessage talks to Android users via outdated SMS/MMS, ad giant complains

Google has launched a campaign to pressure Apple to adopt Rich Communications Services (RCS), a protocol used by most mobile industry vendors but not the iPhone maker.

Android devices communicate using RCS, but Apple devices don't. Apple uses its own iMessage protocol in its Messages app to communicate between iPhones. Thus when iPhone users want to chat with Android users via Apple's Messages app, the conversation occurs through an older technology.

And Google, unable to convince Apple to treat Android devices better, has created a website to complain. This represents an escalation from RCS lobbying at the Google I/O developer conference in May and an Apple-jabbing tweet in June.

"It’s time for Apple to fix texting," says the search company facing antitrust complaints that may end up being resolved with mandated interoperability.

"Texting between iPhones and Android phones use SMS and MMS, outdated systems from the 90’s and early 00’s," laments Google. "The result is a poor experience – they do not support modern texting features like end-to-end encryption, high quality media sharing, read receipts, typing indicators and more."

Coincidentally, it was about a decade ago when Google "[abandoned] open standards for instant messaging" by moving away from XMPP/Jabber.

To make its case, Google has cited social media messages, in the form of tweets and TikTok videos, expressing frustration with Apple's intransigence. And the ad giant is promoting the #GetTheMessage hashtag to fuel further social media outrage.

Google maintains that if Apple upgrades from SMS/MMS to RCS, the subpar experience of texting between iPhones and Android phones – made visible with green cross-platform text bubbles rather than blue Apple-only text bubbles – will be improved.

RCS originally did not include E2E encryption, but Google Messages added support in late 2020; Group messages got E2E encryption this year. Apple supports end-to-end (E2E) encryption for its own iMessage-using customers, though iCloud backups of Messages include the encryption key (making encryption pointless for backed-up messages).

Conversations between iPhones and Android devices using Apple's Messages app are not E2E encrypted. Thus, Google has gone so far as to recommend unaffiliated apps like Signal and WhatsApp as alternatives for iPhone users who want to promote more equal communication with the Android world while retaining some measure of security.

The Register asked Apple to comment and we've not heard back, but there's no surprise there. The last time Apple provided proof-of-life in its communications department was on February 25th, 2022 to acknowledge an inquiry and respond, "Can we email off the record?" Despite the acceptance of those terms, no further response was received. So it is perhaps unsurprising that Google's prodding hasn't elicited any answer from Fortress Cupertino.

During the antitrust case Epic Games filed against Apple in 2020 – still awaiting an appeals court decision – messages exchanged by Apple executives revealed why the company might be disinclined to make iMessage play nicely with Android apps.

In a court document [PDF] filed last year in advance of the Epic Games v. Apple trial, Epic's attorneys cited internal Apple communications to argue that Apple uses iMessage to lock customers into its iOS ecosystem and described how Apple considered making an Android version of iMessages.

"In 2016, when a former Apple employee commented that 'the #1 most difficult [reason] to leave the Apple universe app is iMessage . . . iMessage amounts to serious lock-in' to the Apple ecosystem, [then head of worldwide marketing Phil] Schiller commented that 'moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us, this email illustrates why,'" the court filing says. ®

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