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Google pushes ahead with RCS messaging app to run on Android phones

Matt Hamblen | March 18, 2016
RCS approach seen as universal messaging, similar to Apple iMessage.

Messaging services on Android devices get dinged by users for being too complex and fragmented, at least when compared to the universal app approach with Apple iMessage on iOS devices.

Google recognizes that it needs to make improvements to messaging on Android devices. To that end, the company bought Jibe Mobile, a provider of Rich Communications Services (RCS). Last fall, Google committed to the RCS carrier standard for support of mobile messaging, including group chats, high resolution photos and more.

RCS has been around for a long time — since 2007 — but so far hasn't won the support of more than 50 wireless carriers globally. In February, Google and 15 global carriers partnered with the GSM Association to promote further RCS adoption. 

With Jibe, Google is building a dedicated RCS client to run on Android devices. It isn't clear when the client will be launched, although some reports have speculated more details could be revealed in May at Google's I/O conference.

Google's plan is for the RCS messaging app to be part of a new Android phone from the time a customer leaves the store, according to a Google official who asked not to be named. It will be available in older phones through Google Play and will be compatible with SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service, the official said Wednesday.

Google's RCS client would reportedly bring features that are seen in third-party services like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Hangouts and more. Some of the technology is discussed in an online primer from Jibe and one of the possible features is real-time typing. In addition, a user wouldn't have to find and sign up for separate accounts for different services, thereby reducing the fragmentation that has irked some Android customers.

In the February announcement describing the partnership with the GSMA, Sprint was the only U.S. wireless carrier listed as wanting to accelerate the availability of RCS. Last July, T-Mobile also announced support for RCS with Advanced Messaging.

AT&T and Verizon are reportedly interested in RCS, but haven't announced any specific plans. Google is talking to various carriers about joining RCS but isn't ready to name more, Google said.

The advantages of RCS to users would be convenience and more features than they can find by using SMS, which is still widely in use. Wireless carriers, meanwhile, could use the standard to compete against individual third-party messaging apps, often referred to as Over-The-Top (OTT) apps.

"Google got on board with RCS and Jibe because they were losing to OTT and were losing with Hangouts anyway, so RCS is another way to take another shot at the messaging space," said Steve French, global vice president of product management at OpenMarket, a mobile messaging provider to enterprises.


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