Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Time for Apple to Fix Texting

Android (MacRumors, Hacker News):

It’s not about the color of the bubbles. It’s the blurry videos, broken group chats, missing read receipts and typing indicators, no texting over Wi-Fi, and more. These problems exist because Apple refuses to adopt modern texting standards when people with iPhones and Android phones text each other.

John Gruber:

RCS messages are only end-to-end encrypted sometimes, if both the sender and recipient are using Google’s Messenger app — and never for group chats, even with Google’s Messenger app.

So, practically speaking, neither RCS nor iMessage is actually private for most users. Right now, the experience of communicating with Android users from Messages is not very good. And it happens via SMS, which is even less secure. Whether or not you consider RCS to be a real open standard, it seems like it would be better than what we have now, and I don’t see Apple proposing a better alternative. It’s unclear whether this is a case of perfect being the enemy of good, RCS having genuine problems, Apple deliberately making things worse for their customers for strategic reasons, or simply not caring.

Regardless, they should also make Messages work better with SMS.

Ron Amadeo (via Jack Wellborn):

Google has been pushing this strategy since the beginning of the year, but coming from the company with the world’s most dysfunctional messaging strategy, it just comes across as a company tired of reaping what it has been sowing.


RCS has hung around so long and is still so poorly implemented because it was created by the carriers (through the GSMA) as a carrier-centric messaging standard. Carriers did this in the heyday of pay-per-message SMS, when carrier messaging was a real revenue stream. Now that carrier messaging is commoditized though, the carriers in control of RCS don’t have an incentive to care about RCS. RCS is a zombie spec.

Dave Mark:

What is the down side to RCS?

I get why Apple doesn’t want RCS (walled garden, green vs blue bubbles differentiator, etc), but is there a technical downside to switching to RCS?

Matt Birchler:

The thing for me is that everyone who is railing against Apple adding support for RCS are saying it’s because it’s not as good as iMessage, but that’s not what it’s replacing…it’s better for everyone than SMS, which I think is the better comparison.


Update (2022-08-11): Dieter Bohn:

SMS/MMS are bad for texting on any platform, so Google worked with carriers to fix it. Yes, it’s been messy - it’s a hard problem. But sunsetting SMS/MMS and replacing it with something better is what’s right for users.

Russell Ivanovic:

SMS sucks bad. RCS sucks way less. Yes a dedicated end to end encrypted messaging app is better, but RCS is a good step forward.

The world would be a better place if Apple implemented it, period.

Update (2022-09-08): Sami Fathi (Hacker News):

During a panel at Kara Swisher’s final Code Conference yesterday, Cook was asked why iOS has not yet adopted support for the RCS standard and how Steve Jobs would feel about it (via The Verge), despite repeated calls from the industry for the company to do so. “I don’t hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy in on that at this point,” Cook said in response to the question.


The reporter who asked the question pushed Cook on his response, saying he and his mother find it difficult to send photos and videos to each other because she uses an Android while they use an iPhone. “Buy your mom an iPhone,” Cook told the reporter who posied the situation.

Update (2022-10-06): Abner Li:

Before Google’s “Get The Message” campaign in August, Android’s Messages app was updated with iMessage reactions at the start of this year. In a very weird turn of events, Apple appears to be taking credit for Google adding iMessage reactions on Android.

Update (2022-12-05): Juli Clover:

Google’s new blog post points out that this week marks the 30th anniversary of the SMS messaging standard, as the first SMS message was sent on December 3, 1992. Google argues that it’s time for an update, calling out Apple for “dragging its heels.”

Update (2023-06-02): Cassidy James:

even without e2ee to start, RCS would be leaps and bounds better of an experience ON BOTH ENDS than SMS. Apple absolutely is holding back the experience and only they can decide to support RCS.

messages would ultimately arrive in a Google-owned messaging client with a phone number and the message contents, exactly like they do today with SMS. Except with SMS, everyone in between can also read the contents in clear text, whereas even without e2ee, RCS message contents are encrypted similar to how HTTPS works. So it’s still a massive improvement. Plus typing indicators, full quality video, reactions, etc.

There’s no excuse for Apple to use SMS but NOT RCS.

as it stands, Apple knows any messages sent to anyone but an iPhone are sent in the clear, with a worse experience. They could, idk, work with the GSMA to enable end-to-end encryption in RCS if they cared. But they care about their marketing image, not securing actual communications.

We both know they enjoy the twisted perception of non-Apple phones being inferior at messaging because they themselves are refusing to improve things.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to reverse blue-bubble themselves where Android users now have nice rich messaging ootb, until an iPhone user joins and ruins it for everyone.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

It's not so much "perfect being the enemy of good," as "good being the enemy of bad." I'm against RCS adoption primarily because it does not mandate encryption and yes, is not even as rich as iMessage. If Apple caves and supports RCS, that's a fait accompli against any better protocol getting traction for the next decade at the least, because Google and the carriers will dust their hands off at a job well done and then sit on them. If Apple holds out, there remains breathing room for development of a better open spec (from an entity with more trust and less dysfunction than carriers/Google) with more genuine enthusiasm for it; breathing room that exists because nobody is funding lobbying campaigns in support of SMS like they are RCS.

The Google flavour RCS is a proprietary protocol supported by only a couple of devices.

As carrier are never going to support it anyway, it will never be a replacement for SMS, but only an implementation of Android proprietary protocol.

Instead, they should ask Apple to open its Message platform.

All I want is to be able to send high res images to my parents.

One thing that's missing from this discussion is the impact of EUs DMA and DSA.

They will open the door to iMessages for Google, Facebook and who ever else that feel like it.

Gruber: "Google wants you to believe Apple is refusing to support RCS out of blue/green bubble spite."

I mean... I'm sure there are multiple different explanations that all play some role in Apple's decision. But if you think this isn't at the top of the list for Apple, you're not paying attention to where Apple's revenue is coming from.

vintner: "If Apple caves and supports RCS, that's a fait accompli against any better protocol getting traction for the next decade at the least"

Then why isn't Apple either working towards a better standard, or opening up their own standard?

"I'm against RCS adoption primarily because it does not mandate encryption"

There are only two companies involved here, and the one that supports RCS also supports encryption. So the only way "not mandating encryption" would be an actual problem is if Apple implemented RCS, but didn't mandate encryption for their implementation.

Carriers want to continue billing SMS / MMS / RCS / whatever. Once abundant revenues that almost completely dried up. Also revenues from call minutes are threatened by VoIP. So they subsidise Google to add the Chrome effect to text messaging. A desperate move.

Is SMS and blue/green bubble an issue specific to the US? Why are individuals still hanging on to SMS?
Here in the UK, the only SMS I receive are for 2FA and from service providers (delivery, bank, appointment reminders). I haven't sent an SMS in years. The people I communicate with have long moved over to Whatsapp (whether or not you like Zuck), where no one cares nor knows whether you're on iOS or Android.

I think it's more common in the us, where the iPhone is more dominant.

The rest of the world has moved to other platforms to be able to send high res images.

blammo: Unlimited SMS has been common for US plans for a while, and combined with high iPhone/iMessage use, it means that no alternative message platform took off in the US the way Whatsapp has in Europe and Latin America and Line in Japan.

RCS itself doesn't do E2EE, right?

Does Google's E2EE on top of RCS support multiple devices? Until recently, iMessage seemed to be the _only_ system that did. WhatsApp now does, too (although I believe it still treats your phone as the authority, unlike iMessage, where each device is fully independent).

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