The green bubble-blue bubble divide in chats on your phone will be bridged next year. Apple says it's going to add support for the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard, which should bring more iMessage-style features to Android users who message with iPhone users.
Apple confirmed its plans in a statement to 9to5Mac, telling the site, "We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users."
In other words, iMessage is going to remain the way iPhone users communicate with each other. Apple's move simply means that it's adopting RCS in addition to iMessage.
Apple says RCS support will come in the form of a software update "later next year." We've reached out to Apple for confirmation of its plans and for more details about what the addition of RCS will mean for inter-platform communication.
Google rolled out RCS to Android phones in 2019, allowing messages and images to be sent simultaneously — something not possible with the SMS and MMS standards. But since Apple never bought into RCS before now, messages between iPhones and Android defaulted to MMS, leading to a less-than-fulfilling experience with inter-platform communications.
A big about-face for Apple
To say that Apple's sudden adoption of RCS is a surprise would be an understatement. As recently as last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook's response when pressed on the cross-platform messaging experience was to encourage people to "buy your mom an iPhone."
“I don’t hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy in on that at this point,” Cook said during the Code 2022 event when pressed on RCS support.
Apple has incentive to adopt RCS sooner than later, as the European Union has been calling for Apple to open up iMessage as part of the Digital Markets Act.
Why RCS is on iPhone is a big deal
Adding RCS support should enable features like typing indicators, read receipts and other niceties iMessage users take for granted when communicating with each other. 9to5Google reports that users will also be able to share location data with others in text threads once RCS support arrives on the iPhone.
Apple has had some security concerns with RCS, citing the fact that iMessage offers end-to-end encryption. This past summer, Google said it was making all RCS messages end-to-end encrypted by default, though RCS-to-iMessage texts aren't end-to-end encrypted. It's unclear if that will change once RCS support arrives on the iPhone.