Google Aims to Replace SMS with an Android Messaging App

Google is at work creating consensus among every major global cellphone carrier to replace SMS with “Chat,” based on a standard dubbed the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services. Chat is the consumer name for RCS (Rich Communication Services) and is not actually a new texting app but rather a new set of features inside an app (Android Messages) already installed on most Android phones. Google is leading development to ensure interoperability of Chat on every carrier’s service.

The Verge reports that, “like SMS, Chat won’t be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards,” meaning that, “it won’t be as secure as iMessage or Signal.” It’s up to each carrier as to when Chat is activated; messages will be sent via data not SMS, meaning the user will only be charged for the minimal data it costs to send a message.

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Google plans to “introduce new features into the default Android Messages app, making it “the default on many (but not all) Android phones.” Samsung said it will support Chat on its phones via the Samsung app, although users will still be able to download the Google app.

“There are a lot of great messaging products and experiences that are out there,” said Anil Sabharwal, who heads the Chat effort. “Just because Google may want to be one of them is not a reason for us to invest or build products.”

In the U.S., Sprint supports Chat and T-Mobile has said it will by Q2. AT&T and Verizon, both of which hadn’t signed on to Chat, recently agreed to support the standard. That makes 55 carriers, 11 OEMs and two operating system providers (Google and Microsoft) that have “all pledged to either adopt or switch over to the system.”

The Verge states its hunch that, “the pressure is on to get Apple to support Chat, not just from Google but from carriers and other businesses,” adding, that, “sources familiar with RCS say Google, along with multiple mobile operators, is in discussion with Apple about supporting RCS.”

How carriers actually implement Chat remains to be seen, especially with regard to price. Sabharwal is focused on all the new features he’d like to add to Android Messages: “Google Assistant. Integration with his other project, Google Photos. Clearer organization of messages. Better search. More ‘expressiveness’ (read: GIFs and stickers).”

“By the end of this year, we’ll be in a really great state, and by mid-next year, we’ll be in a place where a large percentage of users [will have] this experience,” said Sabharwal. “This is not a three- to five-year play. Our goal is to get this level of quality messaging to our users on Android within the next couple of years.”