Apple says iPhones will support RCS in 2024

In a surprising move, Apple has announced today that it will adopt the RCS (Rich Communication Services) messaging standard. The feature will launch via a software update “later next year” and bring a wide range of iMessage-style features to messaging between iPhone and Android users.

Didn't see this coming. Six years too late, but sooner than expected.

Apple's statement:

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

This is a welcome improvement—green bubbles should turn more aquamarine, I guess—but by no means will this eradicate the lock-in effect that iMessage has in certain markets, particularly the US. When Google and others started badgering Apple to adopt RCS they were implicitly arguing for the abandonment of iMessage, but that was never going to happen. Feature parity aside, the fact RCS is not truly end-to-end encrypted makes it a non-starter for Apple. Besides, there is no way they'd volunteer to wait on a standards body to approve new features in the Messages app. In spite of this news, we should expect the two class system of blue bubbles and green bubbles to remain largely unchanged—the green bubbles will just be marginally less shitty to deal with.

I suspect this is a calculated capitulation to get the EU to back off from forcing Apple to open iMessage to other platforms. I imagine Apple's argument will be straightforward: this is us adopting the modern industry standard to facilitate interoperability, and any further regulations by the EU would have no effect but to stifle innovation. Because their competitors spent all their energy lobbying for Apple adopting RCS (as opposed to opening iMessage), maybe the EU will go along with this.

One last thought: the "later next year" timeframe helps Apple's case in escaping the EU's imminent ruling on messaging platform rules, as most observers will probably fail to realize that Apple's adoption of RCS will not actually dissolve the blue-green class divide.

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