Google, apparently unsatisfied with the already incredibly long list of short-lived communications solutions that it has produced, is taking one more shot messaging. According to The Verge, the latest attempt is called Chat.
Google is reportedly aiming to position Chat as a total replacement for SMS and an iMessage killer. But more importantly, it will hopefully help Google finally solve the seemingly unaccomplishable goal of *checks notes* sending text messages.
Instead of building another goddamn app, which the company has done countless times already to middling success, this time Google is aiming to adopt a new standard for messaging that will move users away from SMS. In order to accomplish this, Google has quietly been lobbying major mobile carriers to adopt a new technology, called Rich Communication Services (RCS).
Chat is essentially just the consumer-friendly face slapped atop the stuffy name given to the communication protocol. Chat will be accessible through Android Messages, the default messaging app that comes installed on most Android devices.
When Chat goes live—expected sometime later this year—it will automatically be turned on within the existing Android Messages app and will supersede SMS as the primary protocol for messaging. Texts going between users with Chat will be sent over RCS, and those Chat messages will be sent via a user’s data plan rather than SMS plan. Those messages will reportedly eat up a minimal amount of data per message.
Conversations with those who haven’t using the new protocol will default back to SMS. Google and Microsoft are on board with RCS, but Apple isn’t so don’t expect to hear complaints about green text bubbles come to an end any time soon.
So what’s new with Chat? It supports a number of amenities of a modern messaging app. It will offer read receipts, typing indicators, group texts, and full resolution photos and videos.
What Chat won’t support is end-to-end encryption, which means messages can potentially be intercepted by law enforcement or malicious actors. The lack of support for such security leaves Chat a step behind alternatives like Apple’s iMessage, Signal, and WhatsApp.
The adoption of RCS will reportedly enable Google to build out features that have too long been absent from its messaging services. The Verge reported that Google will likely build a desktop interface for texting that would allow users to send messages from a device other than their phone. The company is also expected to build out new integrations for Chat, adding the ability to send GIFs and stickers, as well as make it compatible with other Google products like Google Photos and Google Assistant.
That all sounds good—even if it is bordering on too little too late—but there is one major hang up that might make Android users cringe: the entire system requires carriers, not Google, to flip the switch and support Chat. Android users know all too well that carriers aren’t the most eager to adopt updates. Android has been notoriously fragmented, with the majority of users still running older versions of the operating system while they wait for carriers to provide updates.
Google says that it already has 55 carriers worldwide on board with the new communication protocol and believes that most will start offering support for Chat later this year.
As for Google’s other messaging apps, the company isn’t ready to post an obituary just yet. Google is reportedly putting a “pause” on its development of other apps and is refocusing its entire effort on building out Android Messages with the new Chat protocol.
Google has already had to put a number of its communications platforms out to pasture. Google Wave, Google Buzz, Gchat, and Google Spaces are all dead. Allo and Duo are both hanging on by a thread. Surely this will be the time that Google gets it right.