When is a win not a win? Google may be asking that this morning: after months of lobbying regulators by the big G, Apple has agreed to support the RCS text messaging standard in its Messages app – but it won't be embracing any Google-specific additions such as end to end encryption.
The move is just days after Nothing offered a workaround to make Apple's iMessage platform work better on Nothing Phones – a workaround I suspect Apple will move to block fairly quickly.
Although they've been approaching it in different ways, both Google and Nothing have been trying to get Apple to embrace text messaging interoperability. And the new announcement goes some way to delivering that.
It's important to point out here that Apple's Messages app and its iMessage platform are not the same thing: Messages uses iMessage for Apple-to-Apple communications, but it also uses SMS and MMS for text and picture messages respectively. RCS is coming to the app too, but it won't replace iMessage: that will remain Apple's preferred messaging platform for iOS and Mac users.
What is RCS and why should you care?
RCS (Rich Communication Services) is the next generation of phone network texting. It's like a next-generation SMS, with the useful benefit that it works over Wi-Fi as well as over mobile network connections.
Apple has announced that in 2024 its Messages app will support RCS Universal Profile, which is the set of features agreed industry-wide. Those features include multi-device messaging and group chats, file sharing, read receipts, being able to see when the other person is typing, media sharing and more. Apple's Messages app already offers that kind of thing, but only to other iOS users. With RCS, the features will work with Android and other platforms too.
That's good, but it won't address one of the Apple things that seems to irritate a lot of people: green bubbles in Messages. When you use Apple's messaging app, messages sent to and from other Apple users are in blue bubbles; messages from Android users are green. That won't change.
The other crucial omission here is end to end encryption, E2EE for short. Apple currently offers that over its iMessage platform, but it won't be offering that over RCS; while Google's flavour of RCS has E2EE, it's not in the Universal Profile that Apple has pledged to support.