Google’s experimentation with chat apps has turned into a meme among the Android enthusiast community. Just to name a few, there’s been Google Hangouts, Google Voice, Google Allo, Google Talk, and Google+. It seems like the company has tried over and over to dethrone Apple iMessage’s seamless integration across clients, only to fail each time. But now, the company is planning on a major new push it’s calling “Chat” that aims to fix Google’s messaging client mess.
In an exclusive feature on The Verge, Google has revealed that “Chat” will be based on the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services (RCS). We’ve talked about RCS a few times in the past: The simplest way to describe it is that it’s an evolution of SMS. Google has long worked to get their Android partners and telecommunication carriers to support RCS by including support for RCS in Android Messages, offering the Jibe RCS Cloud Platform, and pushing to standardize the Universal Profile. And now, the company has decided to go all in on RCS with the introduction of “Chat.”
To start off, Google will be diverting all the resources it has invested in Google Allo into Android Messages instead. Android Messages will evolve over time to include support for “Chat” which isn’t a messaging client itself, but rather a carrier-based service based on RCS that brings features that are standard in messaging clients such as Whatsapp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger to all users of Chat-supported clients such as Android Messages. Features such as read receipts, live typing indicators, high-resolution images/videos, and group texts are to be expected in the evolved Android Messages client and any other Chat-supported client.
Unfortunately, Chat itself won’t support end-to-end encryption, so it’s about as secure as SMS. That is to say, it isn’t secure at all. But it will be backward compatible with SMS, so if the user you are chatting with doesn’t have a Chat-enabled client then the messages will be sent over standard SMS. There’s no word on whether Apple will support this new Google standard for messaging, though The Verge reports that Samsung smartphones will support it through their own messaging app. So far, Microsoft has committed to supporting the RCS Universal Profile (though an RCS-based Windows chat client hasn’t been confirmed), as have a total of 55 carriers and 11 OEMs around the world.
In addition to all the features that RCS is expected to bring to the table, Google will also be upgrading Android Messages with the features that were introduced in Google Allo: Google Assistant integration and GIF search just to name a few. And the previously rumored Android Messages for Web client will soon make its official appearance.
Chat’s development will be led by Anil Sabharwal, the man who led the team behind the excellent Google Photos service. Android Messages, like Hangouts before it, has the user base to pull this off. Google giving up on Allo is long overdue, but it signals the company’s commitment to seeing this new initiative through. We hope that the company will finally be able to solve the problem they’ve faced for over a decade: How to make an easily accessible, yet feature-rich messaging client that everyone wants to use.