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iMessage, RCS and the curse of Green Bubbles: iPhone and Android messaging are broken

Apple’s iMessage has been at the center of many public debates for years for its differently-colored message bubbles. If you receive a text message from another Apple device, the iMessage app on iPhone, iPad, and Mac shows the received message in a blue bubble whereas it appears in green color if it is sent from…

Apple iMessage has been the subject of many public debates over years because it uses different-colored message bubbles. The iMessage app for iPhone, iPad and Mac displays a received text message in a blue bubble if it comes from an Apple device. It will also display a green message if it comes from an Android device.

Grigoroiu/Shutterstock

Reports from the past show that the blue bubble has been seen as a status symbol and can cause rifts between Apple users and non-Apple users, especially among the younger generation. Users with green bubbles have faced snarky comments, mockery from friends, and bullying at school (via WSJ ).). Many people are switching to iPhones in order to avoid social alienation. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in the US, where people rely heavily on SMS to communicate instead of instant messaging apps such as Telegram or WhatsApp.

What makes iMessage irreplaceable

It is not because iMessage is exclusive — it is due to its many great features. iMessage allows synchronization across all devices that are associated with a single Apple ID. It also comes with read receipts and typing alerts. All of this does not count against any SMS limits enforced by mobile service providers.

iMessage on iPhoneDenPhotos/Shutterstock

To match up to these features, Google introduced support for RCS — or Rich Communication Services, which is a messaging protocol which uses internet connection to support pretty much all of iMessage’s features we listed above. RCS, however, isn’t limited or controlled by any particular phone brand and can be used in a wider range of ways than iMessage.

RCS is a successor to SMS/MMS since its inception over ten years ago. The original RCS initiative was “formed by a group of leading industry players” in 2007 and in 2008 the RCS Steering Committee was created by the GSMA (via GSMA). The service was indefinitely in place due to incompatibility among different carriers and possibly their inability to establish a smooth communication channel linking different carriers.

RCS or Google Messages might not have the same features as iMessage

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Although a few Samsung phones had supported RCS since at least 2015 (via RCR Wireless), the protocol got a major boost later in the year when Google acquired Jibe Mobile (via TechCrunch), a company that offered back-end services to carriers. Over the following years, Google spent efforts working on a messaging feature called Chat, which offered RCS-based messaging.

In 2018, Samsung also extended its support to allow seamless RCS messaging between its own Messages app and Google Messages. As of 2019, the feature was eventually merged into Google Messages — which is (supposed to be) the default messaging app on Android smartphones — and enabled RCS for some users in the US.

Chat is an optional feature in Google Messages that users can turn on to send and receive RCS messages using their Android phones. While it is pretty much on-par with iMessage in terms of functionality — and Google appears dead serious about promoting it after ditching instant messaging apps such as Hangouts and Allo, Apple still does not support RCS. Simultaneously, Apple also seems adamant about not launching iMessage on Android and while it cites security concerns as the reason, many advocates of open-sourcing iMessage claim Apple wants to maintain its reign with this “lock-in” technique.

At the same time, RCS Chat features on Google Messages still feel as incomplete as it was in 2019. RCS is only compatible messaging apps for Android. It is disabled by default in Google Messages. Android users who do not use RCS-supported apps such as Google Messages and Samsung Messages will see the RCS message in plain text.

Apple ignores Google’s appeals to RCS on iMessage

Every now and again, we see Google executives like Hiroshi lockheimer, senior vice-president of Android, urging Apple to support RCS in iMessages. Lockheimer came forward with another such appeal earlier this month when they shared a WSJ report stating how teens in the US “dread the green bubble.” The report highlights many teens undergo bullying and name-calling for not belonging to the blue-bubble clique, often succumbing to peer pressure and ending up buying shiny iPhones just to avoid seclusion and behavior that classifies as harassment.

iMessage should not benefit from bullying. Texting should bring people together. The solution is already available. Let’s make this one industry. https://t.co/18k8RNGQw4

— Android (@Android) January 8, 2022

Lockheimer also tweeted a debate about chat bubbles. The executive once again invited Apple to include support for RCS — and clarifying Google does not insist on creating an Android version of iMessage (via Twitter). “RCS will improve the experience for both iOS users and Android users alike,” they stated, adding that iPhone users will also benefit from RCS in terms privacy, as Apple uses better encryption standards.

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