In a move that could help free European regulators from their backs, Apple makes it easier for iPhone and Android users to exchange text messages. And with this change, some of Apple’s influence disappears.
The iPhone maker will integrate the Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging standard, a more advanced text delivery system across different phone brands, in late 2024, 9to5Mac first reported Thursday. The protocol will support some iMessage features for text strings including an Android user, including indicators that a message has been read by a recipient and that they are typing, as well as the ability to send high quality images and videos.
Apple did not respond to questions about what specific iMessage features RCS might adopt. Possibilities include the ability to “like” or “highlight” texts, or send messages with visual effects, such as “invisible ink” and “balloons.”
Previously, text messages between iPhone and non-iPhone users were sent via SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), systems created in 1992 and 2002, which were criticized for being outdated. RCS was created in 2007 as a more secure alternative with more sophisticated features. It is the standard communication platform between Google And Samsung Telephone (s.
“We believe that RCS Universal Profile will provide a better interoperability experience compared to SMS or MMS,” an Apple spokesperson told 9to5Mac. “It will work with iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”
For over a decade, messages between iPhones appeared in an azure color to Apple users, while messages with a non-iPhone user appeared in lime green. Blue text bubbles have become something of a status symbol among younger users, with Android users being excluded from iPhone group texts for keep the aesthetic blue bubble and green texts considered in jest a red flag among some singles on the dating scene. Apple has accepted the social status associated with its product and the business it leads, blocking the most advanced RCS standard on its devices until now.
It is unclear whether the adoption of RCS means that green text bubbles will turn blue. Apple has not responded to this question. The wealth question about this, but integrating a more advanced messaging protocol for communicating with non-iPhones is a major concession from the company. While the announcement doesn’t mean that non-iPhone users have access to iMessage, it does mean that the walls around Apple’s iMessage empire are coming down. iMessage will remain the primary platform for messaging between iPhone users.
Apple’s change didn’t happen in a vacuum. In recent months, the EU has forced Apple to change a number of its practices to improve competition and consumer comfort. New European rules are needed all phone companies must offer a common USB-C charging port by the end of 2024, putting the spotlight on Apple and its 11-year-old incompatible Lightning cable. For the latest iPhone 15, the company replaced its proprietary port with EU (and Android) compatible USB-C. Apple plans to change its App Store policies to comply with Europe’s new Digital Markets Act (DMA), which could mean offering third-party stores on its devices and reducing profits from Apple’s App Store monopoly.
RCS integration was not required by the EU, but it could be a way to appease the regulators and limit future problems. The European Commission is questioning whether iMessage falls under the DMA’s jurisdiction, and a decision to do so would mean Apple may have to improve the interoperability of its devices anyway. This decision also amounts to something of a counter-lobbying strategy. Google has puts pressure on the Commission to regulate iMessage under the DMA. By taking a proactive approach and introducing the RCS standard, Apple weakens Google’s arguments and could solve the problem that the DMA intends to solve.