Synopsis: A battle for survival of public vs private infrastructure.
In a world of increasing tribalism, open standards can be a way to break down walls, but unfortunately, building and maintaining walls can be the path to profits.
The GSM (global system for mobiles) system is an open standard which means people from around the world can all communicate with each, regardless of which brand of device or network service provider they use. But will this always be the case, or could people become divided into tribes on the basis of brand loyalty and only able to communicate within their tribe?
Messaging is now used for more communication than phone calls, and is an example of modern infrastructure that can “tribally” divide the community on the basis of technology provider:
“In the absence of a strategy to become the primary messaging service for [the] bulk of cell phone users, I am concerned the iMessage on Android would simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief software executive, said in a 2013 email. Three years later, then-marketing chief Phil Schiller made a similar case to Chief Executive Tim Cook in another email: “Moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than help us,” he said. Another warning that year came from a former Apple executive who told his old colleagues in an email that “iMessage amounts to serious lock-in.”WSJ June 2022: Why Apple’s iMessage Is Winning: Teens Dread the Green Text Bubble
In person to person and group iMessage chats, people with an Apple device appear as “blue bubbles” and anyone who dare uses any other brand as “green bubble” and reduces features available in the chat. In the US someone even created a line merchandise that touted, “Never Date a Green Texter”.
SMS appeared in 1992, and the MMS extensions were added in 2002. Both were standards within the GSM global system for mobiles, and all mobile manufacturer and mobile carriers and implemented the same standard.
Now in 2023 there many new messaging systems, but rather than agreed standards as open systems with suppliers providing implementations, almost all are proprietary and built and controlled as monopolies by giants of the tech industry.
RCS is a true open standard with multiple independent signatories, but despite reaching release 1.0 in 2008, and initial support from largest Android phone company Samsung from 2012, it seems to have taken the blue bubble vs green bubble culture wars to get Google to drop its own proprietary systems and embrace an open system.
It should have been a wakeup call for proprietary systems as key infrastructure when Facebook shutdown Australia Government built on the proprietary platform in 2021:
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called Facebook “arrogant” and “disappointing” in a terse statement on Thursday afternoon, published on Facebook. The PM admonished the company over its bungled shutdown of news content in the Australian market which saw many government health and service pages blocked this morning. Mr Morrison said his government would not be intimidated by the tech giant. “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said.‘Arrogant’: PM blasts Facebook shutdown for posing health risk
It would seem necessary to have any systems that become public infrastructure to be open and based on standards, but there are challenges, such as how to allow Apples’ initiative to extend the emergency SOS system to allow satellite access but over the longer term prevent such a system locking out other companies providing solutions and avoid a monopoly on SOS services.
RCS provides has the foundation to provide the answer for messaging. Hopefully enough people will adopt RCS to finally make it a success.
Enabling RCS on Android: Far simpler than you may think.
On Samsung phones since the 2022 S22 models, “out of the box” everything is ready to go and all you have to do is enable RCS.
On older Samsung phones, it is now almost as simple, despite what you may read elsewhere. Install the Google messaging App (“Messages by Google” and with this logo ) from the play store (play store instructions here and from Google here although Google instructions suggest adding a payment method and that can be skipped).
The “open” and run this messages app and set it as the default messaging app. Then all that is needed is to enable RCS when asked, answer the questions, and wait few minutes until all is enabled.
Although the above steps make the new messages App the default, the messages icon on the home screen will still launch the old messages app that is not configured for RCS 😒. If, as is most common, the messages app is normally launched from the home screen, it will be necessary to press and hold the icon and then delete that cion, and then add the new messages icon (), to enable launching the newer message app. It can first require “unlocking” the home screen in settings. There are several online tutorials for this step such as this one, but details will vary from version to version of Android, so it depends on the vintage of the phone Android version.
I have tried these steps on a few Samsung phones even including on Samsung Note 3 from 2013 and it worked without any further steps.
But why switch to the Google messages APP???
This at first may sound like transferring who is trusted to handle your messages from Samsung to Google. Is it giving Google to much control? The reality is Samsung is working with Google and result is a product of both companies together, a Samsung “One UI” version of “Messages by Google”, and Samsung phones now ship with “Messages by Google” as the default messaging app:
Samsung confirmed that Google’s app is the new default in a statement to The Verge. “To create the best possible messaging experience for users — with a richer, more engaging communication experience that is consistent across platforms — Samsung is now making Messages the default messaging app for Galaxy S22 series users worldwide, giving them even better capabilities,” spokesperson Jordan Guthmann said.Samsung’s Galaxy S22 phones push Google Messages and the good news of RCS
Samsung and Google are now working together now to enable RCS to successfully takeover from SMS and MMS on Android, and it seems migrating Samsung phones to the “the “Messages by Google” application is part of that work, at least for now, so if there is any risk Google having too much involvement, it can only for now be avoided by something like keeping the current phone for ever and ensuring the Apple dream of worse messaging on Android remains.
Why some many complicated videos and pages explaining how to enable RCS on Samsung?
Mostly because prior to 2023 it was complex. It is now much easier, making those complex explanations redundant, but the nature of the web is the videos and pages are still there, even though the information is out of date.
There are good videos but obsolete videos like explaining how to use RCS from a previous version of Samsung Messages, this now outdates but video that is still useful for people wanting the Samsung One UI version of messages on phones that do not automatically download that version.
Non-Samsung Android phones and other exceptions.
Many Android phones, including 2022 Samsung phones like the S21 already have the “Messages by Google” app installed, so all that is needed is to launch the message app with the correct logo and answer the questions. If it does not automatically add RCS messaging, then check the “pesky questions” as below.
The video to the right by “BredzPro” provides a quick overview for those who like videos and need to install without using the Google “play store”, but alternatively you can follow the instructions for Samsung above, as they also should work even on non-Samsung phones.
Those pesky questions and options: why ask for email and phone number?
To get RCS enabled, there will be 3 to four necessary selections.
The first is whether to make “Messages for Google” the default messages app. If you don’t like the app, this is easily reversed, and you can make any other app the default anytime you wish.
The second question asked is whether to enable RCS, and again this can be reversed at any time, so what is the harm?
The next question that is sometimes asked, but not always depending on exact version at the time, is for an “account” or email address for an account. This is not necessary for RCS, but it can allow uses from devices without their own phone number, although messages will still be linked to a phone number.
The last key question can be “your phone number”. The messages App can usually check the number with the mobile carrier, but depending on device and carrier, providing the number can speed up or simply verification of the phone number. Although RCS messages from a phone go through the mobile network, there are sent over internet protocol, so need to include the phone number of the sender.
Bubble culture wars: green bubbles vs blue bubbles.
Apple iMessage, the standard Apple messaging application, puts messages between other iPhones in “blue bubbles” and messages from other phones in “green bubbles”. Sounds quite trivial, and we even associate green with “go”, so what is the harm?
The trick is that the text in both cases is white text, and white text with green is sufficiently difficult to read that it fails Apple’s own contrast test for readability, whilst white text with blue is as readable as possible. There is a not-so-subtle plan to create a negative reaction to those green bubbles, that appears to have been backed by some concerted influence campaigns. The whole idea is that anyone in a contact list that is a “green-bubble” person in the address book is on the negative side of a cultural divide, and communication with them is “second-class”.
Except this communication no longer needs to be second class, as the RCS system provides basically the same features as Apple as iMessage. The videos below provide some other insights, but Apple has a choice: provide Apple users with the best possible messaging experience overall, or limit who Apple users can communicate with optimally and securely to only those with iPhones. So far, Apple chooses keeping the worse and less secure messaging for the customers in the hope these customers will pressure others into buying iPhones.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook when asked at an event why Apple is not allowing someone to also securely message their mother from their iPhone, answered “buy them an iPhone”.
Of course, given globally Apple has only around 22% market share, most families would have more Android people so it would be easier for everyone to switch to Android in order to enjoy optimal and secure messages.
Over 3/4 of all people are on Android and could enjoy similar features to Apple iMessage and with even more people on their side of the divide, but so far, many using Android phones simply don’t have the system enabled. The one area where Apple clearly does lead is marketing. Will this be another case like Lightning where Apple users had to live with something inferior and more expensive to consumers to provide extra revenue for Apple before eventually external pressure came to the rescue and allowed users to escape from being locked in?
The impact on Apple users.
As discussed in the above videos, Apple could keep conversations fully featured and secure even when those conversations including Android users, but they choose not to because in the words of Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief software executive, it would: “simply serve to remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones”.
Yes, even a company committed to the secure of their customers can relax security concerns if it might mean allowing their customers to buy potentially lower cost alternative phones for their children.
It is not like using Facebook’s WhatsApp is going to deliver consumers to a better place, and in fact any proprietary chat service other than iMessage is going to indirectly cost consumers far more. Apple is not some terrible company or something, and no more guilty of questionable actions than other trillion-dollar companies, but it pays to remember Apple are not saints either.
Google and RCS.
No RCS is not a Google initiative.
I have seen references to “Google’s RCS”, but RCS is not an initiative of Google, although Google has recently decided to embrace RCS and try and ensure its success. RCS has been an initiative of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standards body since 2008 as a true successor to SMS/MMS, although for a variety of reasons, has not previously seen significant uptake.
Google has a long history of trying their own proprietary services for chat. Orkut (2004), Google Friend Connect (2008), Google Buzz (2010), Google+ (2011), Google Hangouts (2013), and then Google Meet and Google Chat (2017).
Google took on the technology in 2015 with the acquisition of Jibe mobile, but internally, at Google there are often several different silos working on different solutions to the same problem internally.
Google first added RCS support in 2017 to the Google messages app in 2017, around the same time they launched their proprietary “Google Chat”.
So why has RCS not taken off independently of Google?
RCS requires the cooperation of software providers, device makers and mobile carriers.
Although Samsung had been providing for RCS in their devices from 2012, but Samsung represents only around 1/3 of all Android devices, and the mobile carriers needed to also support RCS.
The mobile carriers were for a long time one of the biggest hurdles as SMS/MMS were one of the most profitable revenue streams for carriers yet costs almost nothing to provide. The use of internet protocol for RCS made it difficult to charge more for messages than for other internet data, so until the various proprietary messaging programs eroded SMS revenue and competition for subscribers reduced SMS messages to an almost free service, mobile carriers were resistant.
The success of iMessage and the failure of Google to make a “killer app” of its own messaging systems has now brought Samsung and Google together supporting an industry standard against the “evil” Apple with their proprietary system. In reality, Apple is probably less “evil” than Meta/Facebook or twitter in this saga, and despite Google’s old “don’t be evil” motto, the only reason the ones fighting for standards is that it is aligns with their interests, and perhaps the success of Apple with their iMessage strategy is also a major factor in finally bringing this worthy open system standard to consumers.
What has changed that will now make RCS successful?
So here is this open standard that never took off because although good for the consumer, no-one was well positioned to earn sufficient revenue to bother, and now Google, Samsung and others are positioning themselves as the champions of consumers against “wicked” Apple:
“Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equity as a core part of its marketing,” Lockheimer [Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior vice president for mobile platforms] wrote. “The standards exist today to fix this.”RCS Explained: Why Google Is Riled Up About It, and Why You Probably Haven’t Used It Yet
Since that article in early 2022, Google has made great strides to making it easier to get RCS running, but after all this time with very little market exposure, it will take time, and as of mid 2023, few Android phones are messaging with RCS.
Why does chat and these features matter?
The features and benefits of RCS over SMS/MMS?
Messaging evolved from being just a step up from pager messages to interactive chat that is now a part of how people communicate but chat features play a role moving things beyond stilted, emotionally ambiguous very restricted conversation, and iMessage, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook have proven the difference key features can make.
The main features enabled by RCS over SMS/MMS include:
- Confirmation of when messages are received and read, removing the doubt as to the message being received.
- Typing indicators to signal someone is “speaking” with the words to arrive when they finish their sentence.
- “Reactions” allowing simple feedback analogous expressions within in person conversation, without requiring verbosity.
- Securing with messages encryption ensuring privacy.
- Group chats.
The evolution of social interaction and text.
That last item, “groups chats”, is the most significant in terms of tribalism, because “tribes” engage in group chat.
How people interact has undergone substantially changes enabled by technology.
Before mobile phones people would “drop in” or “drop by” uninvited and visit friends to socialise and communicate with them because they were “in the neighbourhood” because there was no way to coordinate a visit without first going home to be able to make contact by phone.
The change is that now only it is normally only couriers and canvassers who arrive at the door unannounced, and friends rarely “drop in” without a phone call first anymore. Some people have even progressed to sending a text message in advance of even making contact by phone call.
The ratio of person to person contact that is by text message rather than phone call is continually increasing. I have included two sets of statistics, and while I am looking for more thorough statistics, search results tend to be overwhelmed by those presenting statistics to sell their phone call or text marketing services rather than research the topic.
Two trends are still clear, use of text and chat messages as a form of communication has been increasing, and use of text/chat is more dominant in younger age groups, with some people now almost never using a phone to make phone calls.
Why “chat features” matter.
With so much communication through chat and messaging, that quality of the communication plays a key role in its adoption.
With traditional SMS, your send a message and never know been received or seen, which works as a substitute for voicemail, but not really for interactive chat. RCS and other chat systems add not only indicators of the progress of message through being received, seen and when the person is typing a reply. This mimics conversation quite closely as the human brain only decodes speech when phases are complete, with the complex process of turning sounds into words quite reliant and fitting the sounds with words that fit the situation, which is why voice recognition systems that do not use AI to fit sounds with what might logically be said get it so wrong. So, the typing indicator acts like the brain hearing sounds that t will try to decode when sufficient has been said to convey meaning.
Even with SMS there are emojis that can be sent to convey what is normally conveyed by tone of voice, but with SMS there are no “reactions” to convey what in conversation is conveyed by the facial expressions of the listener.
Group Chat: New ways to socialise.
Introduction: A significant new step in social communication.
Group chat is another level of social experience. Imaging a group of perhaps 5 planning a picnic. With phone call and SMS plans can be communicated, but the interaction is stilted by SMS and getting 5 people on a phone call is problematic. But a group chat, can become social brings forward the start of the social experience to the planning stage. People invited to the chat are being invited to participate in both the picnic, and the planning of the picnic. With a picnic planned 2 weeks in advance, there is a two-week social interaction chat as people update others on their plans, and changes and the evolution of the overall plan.
Several people watching a sporting event can make it a social occasion even without all physically being in the same place.
The key to the tribal “blue on green” conflict.
When two people chat between Apple and Android, both get an almost equally degraded experience, with Android now managing to emulate some chat features lacking over SMS from Apple, but overall, the limitations are not that problematic. It is within group chats that the real “tribal” problem emerges, with Apple degrading the experience for the entire group chat the moment one “green” Android person joins the chat. And it is all to provide a barrier to Apple users purchasing non-Apple phones for their family members?
The obstacle: Who didn’t anyone push RCS chat services before?
Money. While Apple is the current “bad guy”, in previously pushing their own “data revenue model” proprietary chat systems, Google in the past has been an arguably at least as bad guy if not worse.
As chat services are “free” in that given there are several chart service options with no explicit fees, it becomes difficult to get significant number of people to pay for chat services.
But given “there is no such thing as a free lunch“, it becomes important to consider how we actually pay, and how much each option actually costs consumers:
- With WhatsApp, provided by Facebook/Meta, we pay through increased product prices to cover the marketing budget of products promoted Facebook/Meta, and the same principles apply with other proprietary chat services: consumers indirectly pay a huge price.
- Apple iMessage is provided by Apple to boost sales of their products: the cost to consumers is the limited to the cost of the Apple “walled garden”.
- RCS is provided by Mobile Carriers and Google promoted by Google: there is no significant cost over what consumers already pay their mobile network carrier.
While neither Google nor the mobile carriers were bothering to promote RCS and providing encouragement for an open solution, Apple iMessage was at least costing consumers far less than the indirect costs of any “free” proprietary service.
From the perspectives of costs and revenues, neither Apple iMessage nor RCS requires any significant operating expenses, and with the privacy commitments of these services, there is path to “taxing” consumers by using data to influence purchasing decisions of customers either. The difference now is only that RCS is open, and iMessage is deliberately building those walls around their garden to divide people into tribes.