April 15, 2024

Why Apple finally decided to adopt RCS on iPhone

Key takeaways

  • Apple is finally integrating RCS into iMessage to improve messaging between iPhone and Android users.
  • RCS improves SMS by offering features like read receipts, better image delivery, reactions and live writing screens.
  • Potential regulation, including pressure from the EU, may have influenced Apple’s decision to adopt RCS and prevent iMessage from being available on Android devices.

For as long as iMessage has existed, messaging between iOS and Android has been a terrible experience on both sides. Users have dealt with poor SMS reaction translations and terrible image compression, creating many reasons to avoid sending text messages between iOS and Android phones. But all this is going to change soon. In late 2023, Apple announced that it would integrate RCS messaging into iMessage in 2024.


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The shocking news of the year is that Apple is adding RCS to the iPhone.

This change could significantly improve messaging functionality between iPhones and Android devices, offering features such as read receipts, better image and video delivery, reactions, and live typing indicators. After years of Apple seeming unwilling to improve cross-platform messaging, it’s natural to wonder what prompted this change. So why did Apple finally decide to adopt RCS for the iPhone?

Apple's imessage app could soon arrive on Android image 1
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SMS versus RCS: differences explained

Before we delve into why Apple is adopting RCS, it’s important to understand what RCS is and how it improves SMS. RCS, or Rich Communication Services, is a communication protocol designed to replace the largely obsolete SMS or short message service.

The differences between the two protocols are significant.

What are SMS?

SMS messages, unlike iMessage and other services, do not depend on Wi-Fi or mobile data. Instead, SMS are transmitted over the cellular network, similar to phone calls. SMS messages also have a limit of 160 characters. So, for a long time, if an iPhone user sent a long message to an Android user, it arrived in the form of several texts, each divided into 160-character intervals.

SMS alone does not allow you to send or receive photos or videos. This is where MMS, or multimedia messaging service, comes into play. MMS works almost the same as SMS, but has a much higher size limit, which accommodates sending image and video files. However, there is still a relatively low limit. This is why images sent from Android to iPhone, and vice versa, must be highly compressed.

What is RCS?

RCS is an improvement on SMS in almost every possible way. It aims to make text messaging more like using services like WhatsApp, adding all the features that come with it. RCS messages are delivered over Wi-Fi or your cellular network data and enable a much more robust feature set.

RCS addresses all the problems associated with SMS as a communication protocol. While SMS has a tiny character limit, RCS does not. When SMS is not suitable for sending photos and videos, RCS can deliver them in HD.

Additionally, RCS features support for read receipts, location sharing, and genuine group chat functionality. Sending messages in a group text chain that includes iPhone and Android users can be a frustrating experience for everyone involved. RCS solves this problem.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of RCS is its open standard status. This means that any manufacturer can adopt it for their devices at no cost. RCS is a complementary communication standard designed to improve text messaging for all users.


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Green bubbles vs blue bubbles

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Green bubbles and blue bubbles.

iMessage, introduced in 2011, was a novel concept at the time. All the improvements that RCS offers today were already available in iMessage, but only for iPhone users. The issue is mutual; Using an Android and struggling to effectively text iPhone users can be equally frustrating.

Blue bubbles represent messages sent through Apple’s messaging service, while green bubbles indicate standard SMS text messages, often intended for non-iPhone users. This distinction has created a form of “iPhone envy,” with blue bubbles seen as a status symbol. Android users often feel left out in group chats, potentially preventing a smoother messaging experience. They could also be the reason for an influx of text messages with likes.

“Android users often feel left out in group chats, potentially preventing a smoother messaging experience. They could also be the reason for an influx of text messages with likes.”

The most challenging aspect is that while the adoption of RCS (Rich Communication Services) could alter this dynamic, Apple seems content with the status quo. In 2022, when Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about adopting RCS, he suggested that iPhone users were not demanding it. He implied that the solution to any communication problem with an Android-using family member was to simply buy them an iPhone.

Apple’s reluctance to adopt RCS was probably due to several reasons. iMessage, being exclusive to the Apple ecosystem, distinguishes iPhones from Androids, and adding RCS could have blurred this selling point. Additionally, from Apple’s point of view, adding RCS to iMessage might not have seemed essential since many of the RCS features were already available to iPhone users. However, external factors, such as potential EU regulations and a growing demand for better communication between different platforms, likely played a role in pushing Apple to adopt RCS.


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What led Apple to change its position on RCS?

Apple and the EU

The short answer is possible regulation. Before Apple announced the adoption of RCS for iPhones in 2024, there were discussions among several telecom operators about urging the European Union to classify iMessage as a core service under the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

The DMA is an EU regulation designed to address a variety of issues in the technological world.

If iMessage had been designated as a primary service under the DMA, Apple would have been forced to make iMessage accessible on Android devices. While there is no direct confirmation that Apple’s decision to adopt RCS was to avoid extending iMessage to non-Apple products, the move closely followed this news and growing industry pressure for Apple to adopt RCS.


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When is RCS coming to iPhone and what to expect?

In November 2023, Apple announced that it would bring Rich Communication Services (RCS) to iPhones in 2024, although the exact date has not been specified. This update introduces a standard that most Android phones already use; It aims to improve non-iMessage conversations. With RCS, iPhone users can expect features like read receipts, writing indicators, better quality photos and videos, and the ability to react to messages.

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