Messaging is an essential part of any smartphone, and it’s something Apple has already installed with the iPhone and iMessage. Google employees have recently expressed frustration about how Apple uses iMessage as an install tool, and while Apple’s resistance to RCS and other cross-platform standards is certainly troubling, the context of Google’s countless messaging failures doesn’t really help the company’s case.
What’s so cool about iMessage?
Apple launched iMessage in 2011 along with the advent of iOS 5. At the time, SMS and MMS were dominating the industry, with trillions of text messages sent each year in the US alone. These messages also came with carrier fees and complex cost management plans.
iMessage came as a solution to this problem, offering messaging over Wi-Fi or data using the same old phone number. iMessage’s original selling point was the ability to send messages without charging, and higher quality when sending photos and videos. If iMessage isn’t available, whether that means you don’t have a stable data connection or you’re texting someone without iMessage, the app will automatically revert to SMS/MMS. Another great feature is that it has brought Messages to other iOS devices, including the iPad and iPod Touch.
Over time, though, iMessage has evolved with more features. A year after its debut, the service made its way to the Mac, and while it added support for message feedback, apps, Apple Pay, and many more, Many More advantages. But nevertheless, it remains exclusive to Apple’s hardware products, despite repeated calls for it to expand to other platforms.
Google’s history of messaging apps since iMessage first appeared
Google has been working on messaging apps for more than a decade, and many of them have appeared since the arrival of iMessage in 2011.
Google Hangouts – 2013 – 2018
Google’s first real attempt to compete with iMessage came in 2013 with the arrival of Google Hangouts. The service, which was an extension of Google+ messaging services, brought Android messages together in one place. It had SMS/MMS messages, it had instant messaging based on a Google account over data, and it also had voice and video calling, powered in part by Google Voice. Hangouts even replaced the old Google Talk, which was popular for years before iMessage debuted.
Really, it was promised to be an all-in-one messaging solution from Google. And unlike iMessage, it has worked virtually everywhere, with clients on Android, iOS, the web, smartwatches, and more.
But in typical Google fashion, Hangouts is off to a rough start. Some of its promises, such as actually ending other Google messaging services and being the default SMS client for Android, weren’t available on day one, but Google quickly improved the situation by pulling the plug on its Google+ messaging service and introducing SMS support to Hangouts, and Google Voice wasn’t too far behind.
But by 2016, Google started looking at other messaging strategies for reasons that to this day no one really understands. This included making Google Messenger (now Messages) the default SMS app on Android, removing SMS from the Hangouts app, and launching Google Allo.
2018 saw the “death” of Hangouts, when Google announced that “classic” Hangouts would be shutting down in favor of enterprise alternatives that weren’t anywhere ready for consumers.
In 2022, Hangouts is still technically working, but it’s dead walking. Google is pushing users towards Google Chat instead, and the Messages app for SMS. Google even went so far as to restart Voice a few years ago, further cementing that the dream of an all-in-one messaging app was something Google had completely accomplished.
Google Allo – 2016 – 2019
Where Hangouts is designed to be the only messaging app to rule them all like iMessage, Google Allo has taken more of the WhatsApp approach.
Allo was a phone number-based messaging app with end-to-end encryption as one of its main selling points. Moreover, it was the first introduction to the Google Assistant and had a lot of smart features and fun stickers to play with. After revealing Google I/O alongside video app Duo, the hype on Allo was loud.
However, it quickly ended after its launch because it was limited on features, and only works on Android and iOS And Only one device at a time, and it lacks SMS integration completely. In addition, it has had to treat WhatsApp as its main competitor, with no real advantages over that highly popular service.
Allo was eventually forgotten, and Google finally pulled the service in 2019, almost three years after it debuted.
Google Messages and RCS – 2019 so far
In 2018, Google began pushing for a new messaging effort that, we hope, will hold out for others. RCS – Rich Communication Services – was supposed to replace SMS entirely on the backs of carriers logging in on the new technology. The technology itself has been around for a few years at that point, but without a clear direction. Some carriers had their own isolated versions of RCS, while others ignored them. Google has stepped up with the goal of getting a global RCS standard via Jibe, a company it bought years ago.
The way RCS was delivered was Google Messages, which acquired the primary messaging app from Google in 2019, combining traditional SMS with number-based RCS messaging. Like Allo, the system was bound to a single device, but as a standard it had Possible To work with other messaging apps and unite everyone according to one standard.
The RCS ride at the time was…complicated, to say the least. The burden of actually implementing Google’s RCS initiative was originally on carrier partners rather than Google itself. But then major US carriers stunned Google by announcing their RCS initiative in late 2019, which predictably fizzled out before anything was done just two years later.
Google went ahead and started making RCS available to every Android user on the planet over the course of 2019 and 2020, an initiative that has since been completed and even introduced end-to-end encryption. Of course, it still requires Google Messages to be the SMS app people use, which isn’t always the case.
In 2021, carriers began signing on to adopt Google Messages on Android phones they sell in the US, essentially making RCS the default messaging experience across Android smartphones globally.
But even so, RCS was not the perfect solution. SMS remains the alternative for RCS when Android users talk to iPhone users, an issue that Google clearly has problems with. However, Messages and RCS remain Google’s primary consumer-level messaging initiative, even if there are six other options around.
Countless other messaging apps from Google
While iMessage is Apple’s central cross-platform messaging app, Google has created countless messaging apps and services over the years. In fact, Google currently has nine Messaging services in its portfolio as of 2022.
Looking back, it featured Google Talk, Voice, Wave, Buzz, Google+ Messenger, Hangouts, Spaces, Allo, YouTube Messaging, Google Chat for business, Maps Messaging, Messages, Google Photos Messages, and Messages Stadia, Google Pay Messaging, Google Phone Messaging for businesses, Google Chat for consumers, not to mention even video apps – Google+ Hangouts, Hangouts video calling, Google Duo, Google Hangouts Meet finally known as Meet, and because of the success of that was Duo.
ArsTechnica It has a great analysis of many of Google’s messaging apps, and while some of these little apps make sense in their own way, they really show just how chaotic Google’s approach to messaging can be.
Will the Remote Control System (RCS) be different?
RCS has potential in ways that previous Google messaging apps didn’t, and that’s because it’s a standard service, not just a service. RCS is supposed, at least for the most part, to replace the old and limited SMS/MMS standards still used by carriers and still widely accepted as a standard in the United States. Other messaging platforms have taken over the rest of the world, but in the USA, it seems that most users are unwilling to embrace these superior experiences and instead just use whatever is included with their phone, albeit limited.
The goal of RCS, or at least pushing Google behind it, is to bring better group chats, encrypted messaging, better media quality, and more to the virtual messaging experience and better align it with what third parties like WhatsApp and Telegram provide. RCS has the potential to continue indefinitely because it is a standard not only on Google. Carriers and others have reasons to want RCS to be mainstream and on as many devices as possible, and eventually this seems to be getting started.
RCS, with time, will most likely succeed. The real question at this point is whether Google will be happy with the end result, and whether the experience will live up to what Apple has in iMessage, or even something like WhatsApp. This is…a little hard to guess.
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