Thursday, November 16, 2023

Apple to Add RCS Messaging in iOS 17 Update

Lance Ulanoff (Hacker News, MacRumors):

Apple will finally add RCS messaging standard support to the iPhone through a software release early next year, the company told TechRadar.


“Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe the 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,” said an Apple spokesperson.

Apple now acknowledges that RCS is an improvement over MMS and SMS but made it clear that RCS is not replacing iMessage and its host of features like memojies, stickers, and the ability to edit and unsend messages. Instead, the RCS standard support will arrive in an unspecified software update and then it will be up to carriers to add it.


Apple says it won’t be supporting any proprietary extensions that seek to add encryption on top of RCS and hopes, instead, to work with the GSM Association to add encryption to the standard.

Chance Miller (Hacker News):

Apple’s decision comes amid pressure from regulators and competitors like Google and Samsung. It also comes as RCS has continued to develop and become a more mature platform than it once was.


RCS brings many iMessage-style features to cross-platform messaging between iPhone and Android devices. This includes things like read receipts, typing indicators, high-quality images and videos, and more.

Apple’s implementation of RCS will also give users the ability to share their location with other people inside text threads, the company says. Unlike regular SMS, RCS can work over mobile data or Wi-Fi as well.


The elephant in the room is impending legislation in the European Union that could’ve ultimately required Apple to open up iMessage.

John Gruber:

Also color me utterly unsurprised that Apple has no intention to support Google’s proprietary extensions to RCS that allow for E2EE. It’s a disgrace, in my opinion, that E2EE wasn’t a foundational part of the RCS spec from the start, but if Apple is going to support RCS, they should support RCS by-the-spec, not Google’s proprietary version.

I suppose that’s fair if Apple is genuinely working to add E2EE to the standard and thinks Google would support that. But Apple supports all kinds of things that aren’t part of an open spec. And most of the potential recipients already have access to Google’s implementation. It seems like Apple wants to be able to brag that iMessage is more secure, even though they’re the ones putting their customers at risk by choosing not to support encryption. Still, I’m happy to see RCS added because this should at least make it possible to share high-quality photos in conversations that include Android users and to communicate with them when there’s no cellular service.

It remains to be seen what the user experience will be like. I can’t imagine there being blue bubbles. How will it sync and work with Macs? Right now, the hybrid SMS-iMessage experience is so bad, even aside from the photo quality. I regularly see problems with some people not receiving some of the messages and with conversations splitting. Maybe it would be more reliable if the user could designate a conversation as RCS-only. The hybrid stuff is either too hard to get right or Apple doesn’t care enough to make it great. And with even pure iMessage being unreliable, in my experience, I would love to try out messaging all my iPhone-using friends/family with pure RCS.

Nick Heer:

For what it is worth, I am expecting an updated SMS-like experience, but I will be pleasantly surprised if it is more full featured. As Ulanoff notes, RCS does not itself support end-to-end encryption. The latest spec, released in 2019, does not even mention end-to-end encryption, nor does it prohibit text message bubbles from having a green background.


Interestingly enough the person who wrote the white paper for the signal protocol implementation in Googles RCS, Emad Omara, now works for Apple.


Update (2023-12-11): Jason Snell:

iPhone communications with Android devices via Messages will improve. Currently Messages uses the old SMS and MMS standards for sending texts and media to Android phones. RCS supports better image transfers, pass-along of location data (used in several Messages features), and more.

Chance Miller:

Apple has confirmed to me that blue bubbles will still be used to represent iMessages, while green bubbles will represent RCS messages. The company uses blue bubbles to denote what it believes is the best and most secure way for iPhone users to communicate, which is iMessage.

Jason Snell:

When Apple announced its RCS gambit—really an IOU payable later next year—I saw a lot of people who were disappointed because they enjoyed the fact that Android users would no longer be as severely punished for their heresy. It’s a bad look, but I was also surprised that there was so little regard for the ramifications of that decision for the customers who use Apple’s products.

For any iPhone user in the U.S. who texts with Android users, Apple’s stubborn refusal to support something better than old-school SMS and MMS formats has been miserable to deal with. It degrades the iPhone user experience by making text threads weird and unreliable and by lowering the quality of media.

Shouldn’t the user experience be the most important part of the story here?

See also: Slashdot.


Update (2024-03-29): Joe Rossignol:

Google said that Apple would be adopting RCS on the iPhone in the “fall of 2024.” This timeframe suggests that RCS support will be added to the iPhone with iOS 18, which should be available in beta in June and released in September. At the latest, support should be added in iOS 18.1, which is likely to be released in October.

4 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Gruber... What a child.

Why is there a loud part of the Apple userbase that cheer when Apple behave in petty, harmful ways?

Why is it that it's seen as expected and good that Apple send unencrypted messages rather than use something done by Google? It's the whole Rights to Repair circumvention thing but taken to the most childish extreme.

To begin with the green bubble at least had the cover of indicating whether or not sending messages would cost money. After this it's clear that subjecting Apple users to fugly colours has no reason other than spite.

And people like that. Cheer for it. Gods I hope I never become that bitter. Gods I hope I never idolise a company that I want to behave in that manner.

I would imagine the plan here is to extend the current SMS/MMS support with RCS. Which is to say, RCS will be a "green bubble" that just happens to have a few more features than MMS does, but the UI will continue to make iMessage look like the better offering. (Neither iMessage nor RCS are big where I live, so the whole blue bubble stuff just leaves me bemused.)

I do think there's some pettiness to that, perhaps in part motivated by platform lock-in. But I also think Google is being disingenuous — they're not suddenly big RCS proponents because they've found the light, but because their own proprietary chat platforms (infamously, there's quite a few of them, such as Hangouts, Allo, Duo, …) didn't take off. So instead, they bolted proprietary extensions on RCS and convinced carriers that this was the way forward.

As for RCS not being E2EE: decentralized/federated E2EE is hard. Not that centralized E2EE is _easy_ per se, but there's a reason platforms like iMessage and WhatsApp have it and e-mail still effectively does not. It's theoretically possible with PGP or S/MIME, but it isn't pervasive, and at this point it doesn't look like it ever will be.

I guess Gruber can call that a "disgrace", but it's also a reality of engineering that you can wait until you've designed something perfect, or you can actually ship. The RCS folks apparently prepared to ship, with the caveat of lacking E2EE. Then Google bolted on E2EE, but with the caveat of being Google-specific. Now someone can continue that work towards a universal E2EE solution.

I sure do miss the Adium era, though.

✊🍆🍏... What a child.

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