Apple Inc. will finally enable iPhone and Android users to exchange messages via the RCS communications protocol.
A company spokesperson told 9to5Mac today that the feature is scheduled to roll out next year. According to Apple, the planned RCS support won’t be implemented in its iMessage messaging app. That suggests that feature will become available to users through third-party messaging services or a new, yet-announced app built by the iPhone maker.
Currently, iMessage can only be used to exchange messages between iPhones. It’s possible to send texts from an iPhone to an Android device, but the data is sent over the SMS protocol, which has a number of technical limitations. The RCS protocol that Apple plans to implement in iPhones next year is an SMS alternative that addresses many of those limitations.
One area where RCS has an edge is cybersecurity. It supports end-to-end encryption, whereas SMS provides more limited cybersecurity features that aren’t as effective at blocking eavesdropping attempts. Another difference is that SMS can only send data via cellular connections, while RCS also supports mobile data plans and Wi-Fi.
Android handset makers have long urged Apple to make RCS available on iPhones. Last year, their efforts received a potentially significant boost when the European Union passed a piece of legislation called the Digital Markets Act. The law established new, more stringent antitrust requirements for tech giants such as Apple.
One section of the Digital Markets Act focuses on messaging apps. It specifies that a company with a “dominant messaging platform” must allow users to send texts to rival services if those services’ developers request such interoperability. The RCS support Apple plans to roll out will enable it to provide better interoperability with messaging apps installed on Android devices, which could help the company in the regulatory compliance department.
Apple’s RCS implementation is expected to provide many of the same features as iMessage. Users will reportedly have access to typing indicators and read receipts, as well as the ability to share multimedia files and location data in messages. Furthermore, Apple plans to work with members of the industry consortium that maintains RCS to enhance the protocol’s cybersecurity features.
Regulatory considerations may eventually lead Apple to implement RCS support in iMessage as well.
Under the EU’s Digital Markets Act, iMessage meets the criteria to qualify as a “core platform service,” a service that is subject to more stringent antitrust requirements than most applications. However, Apple has argued that the app doesn’t qualify in practice. The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, is currently weighing whether that’s indeed the case.
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