Apple to finally bring RCS to iPhones

Apple plans to add support for the RCS standard on iOS next year, the iPhone-maker said Thursday in a major reversal that would resolve the widespread issue of compatibility in text messaging between iPhones and Android smartphones, a concern affecting millions worldwide known colloquially as the “green bubble” dread.

Apple’s longstanding unwillingness to support RCS has perpetuated fragmentation in messaging ecosystems, particularly affecting Android users, critics have argued over the years.  Apple’s stance, often seen as maintaining ecosystem exclusivity, stirred debate in the tech community over interoperability and user convenience.

Well, no more. In an abrupt announcement today, Apple said it, too, believes that “RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS.” The company, which plans to roll out the support next year, added: “This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”

The major reversal follows Google’s repeated request — and public pressure on — Apple to add support for RCS to iPhones. “People have talked about ‘green bubbles’ as an Android problem,” Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP at Google, tweeted last year, referring to the visual distinction seen when a message is sent from an Android user to an iPhone, where it appears in a green bubble.

“We’re not asking Apple to make iMessage available on Android. We’re asking Apple to support the industry standard for modern messaging (RCS) in iMessage, just as they support the older SMS / MMS standards. By not incorporating RCS, Apple is holding back the industry and holding back the user experience for not only Android users but also their own customers,” he tweeted.

Apple, too, hasn’t been shy about its feeling on RCS. Responding to a query about Apple’s plans to adopt RCS, Apple chief Tim Cook told an individual to, “Buy your mom an iPhone.”

Rich Communication Services, or RCS, is the collective effort of a number of industry players to supercharge the traditional SMS with modern features such as richer texts and end-to-end encryption. Google, Samsung and a number of other firms, including telecom operators, have rolled out support for RCS to over 800 millions users worldwide in recent years.

More to follow.

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