Exclusive: Android’s last chance to fix messages

– Say you have an Android phone and you want to send a text message, what do you do? Well if you do what most people do, you just open up the Messages app and you tap on an SMS but SMS sucks, it’s only 160 characters and you never know if they get it and the pictures are bad and just everything is bad about it. Well what else do you do? Well you hope you remember what messaging app your friend uses and open up WhatsApp or Messaging or whatever and send it that way. This whole situation is a mess, it’s been that way since the very beginning of Android, and guess what, Google says that it finally, basically for the first time ever, has a fix to this whole conundrum and I want to talk about it, but to do that I wanna go inside ’cause it’s noisy out here and I’m tired of walking, so let’s go chat. Okay, so we’re at a quieter place and I wanna start with the basics of what is happening here because it sounds really complicated when you get into it but the end result is really simple.

At some point in the next I don’t know six to 12 months, we don’t have exact timing yet, the default texting app on Android, it’s called Android Messages, is just going to get upgraded so that it’s going to feel more like iMessage or Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp or whatever. You’re gonna get read receipts, you’re gonna get high quality pictures and video that you can send, you’re gonna get really good group texts, it’s not a brand new app, it’s just a feature and it’s got a really simple name, it’s called Chat, it’s gonna be called Chat on every single phone that it’s available on.

So when you open up your texting app, you’ll send a text and it’ll just magically be this nicer version of it so I’m gonna explain it in more detail, but you know what, honestly, before I do that I just want, just humor me a little bit, I wanna do brief history of all the crap that Google has tried to make messaging work on Android, come with me. Okay, so in 2005, Google launched Google Talk, you might know it as Google Chat, it was really popular, it was really good, so when Android launched in 2008, they included it alongside SMS ’cause that’s what you do.

In 2009, the iPhone got push notifications which made apps like WhatsApp get super popular and then when they came to Android also, it got popular there so Google had a problem to solve. So in 2011, they didn’t solve it, they saw Facebook and they’re like we want some of that so they launched Google Plus which had yet more chat apps in it, it had Huddle for text and Hangouts video for video chat, not the same Hangouts as you know, though. It was just confusing. Anyway, in late 2011, iMessage and Facebook Messenger launched and they were way simpler than what Google had and so Google had to fix it again and so a couple years later in 2013 they launched Hangouts which took all those other apps and combined them into a single app and everything was great for a couple of years and then Hangouts didn’t get updated, Google Plus was like failing, and they pulled texting out of it and it was just a big mess again and so in 2016, Google’s like we’re gonna fix it again, they launched Allo for text chat and Duo for video chat, Duo super popular, Allo meh, not so much.

Meanwhile, Hangouts turned into this like enterprise Slack competitor thing, I don’t know, whatever. I haven’t even mentioned Google Voice and Google Wave and all the other crazy experiments Google’s been doing. It’s been a rolling 10 year disaster and Google has to fix it, I mean look at all this stuff. What the what? Okay, all that’s ancient history, you don’t need to know about it anymore, it’s still interesting though right? I mean it’s insane. Here’s how RCS, this new chat feature is going to work, it’s actually relatively simple.

If you have Android Messages and your carrier supports RCS, you’re gonna send a text and then it’ll shoot up to your carrier server, and then they gotta figure out where it goes so it’ll go to a hub that’ll reroute it to the other carrier’s server, that other carrier will be like oh the recipient has RCS too, and they’ll get the rich message, if they don’t, they’ll get a standard text message, if they get a text message, they pay text messaging rates, if they get this special new chat message, it won’t cost anything because it’ll be the same rates as all their stuff on their data plan but if you’re sending it to somebody who doesn’t have RCS, their carrier hasn’t supported it yet or yeah if they’re using an iPhone, it’s going to fall back to SMS.

If you look at this graphic of everybody that’s supporting it, it’s a whole lot of carriers all around the world, it’s a whole lot of Android manufacturers, Samsung’s gonna support it in their default text messaging app, LG and Huawei are on board, and then if you look at the operating system providers, we’ve got Google obviously, and hey, look at that, Microsoft is there, I wonder if that means there’s gonna be a texting app on Windows. That all sounds great, but there’s one problem, RCS chats aren’t protected from government snooping in the same way that a fully encrypted chat system is so if you need something fully encrypted, you’re gonna need to use something like iMessage or Signal. The reason that happens is RCS chats basically follow the same rules as SMS, so the data gets stored on the server, and if the government goes looking for it, the carriers are probably more likely to give it up, and it’s not like iMessage where everything is encrypted and they couldn’t possibly give it up even if they wanted to.

I want to shift gears here a little bit ’cause earlier we looked at all of the folderol that Google went through chasing its own tail trying to figure out messaging, and it seems like they’ve tried everything but they haven’t actually tried everything, even right now they’re not doing what to me seems like the really obvious thing, they’re not just making an Android equivalent of iMessage where you text the message and it goes up to Google, Google figures out whether or not you’re in the system and if you are, you get it and if you’re not, it falls back to SMS. That’s how iMessage works, why aren’t they doing that on Android? The answer, if you ask Google, and I did, is they’ll tell you that Android’s open and they can’t make the default a thing that’s just a Google thing, they actually have to make it available for other people to build on and if they were to swing their big Android clout around, then people might get mad and that’s not what Android’s about and it’s a hard situation that Google’s in, like do you fight every single carrier on the planet by taking away like one more piece of their control over what their customers do or do you partner with everybody and if you’re Google, you’re more likely to partner with everybody because, I don’t know, you play ball in a way that Apple doesn’t.

If it works, if all billion of those people have this new text messaging standard, I don’t think Apple can not get onboard, like they’re gonna have to, they’re gonna become the green bubble, and that would suck for Apple so I do think that there’s a really good chance that the iPhone is gonna pick up RCS support. The billion users of Android are going to have their own version of the blue bubble and there’s still, I don’t know, a trillion text messages sent a year, and so if they can make that experience not suck because it sucks right now, if they can make that experience not suck, they could win and if Google controls the most popular text messaging app on your phone, Android Messages, they can get all the stuff that they want, they can do Google Assistant inside that thing, and they’re gonna do that, they can have crazy Google stickers, they can have it tie in to Duo for video chat stuff.

The bottom line, I hope, is that if you have an Android phone, you’re gonna get Chat, and your text messaging experience is gonna get way better. Is it gonna be as good as I want? No, it’s not, it’s not gonna be as secure as iMessage or Signal, but it’s gonna be a huge upgrade over SMS and honestly, Google deserves some credit for managing to get 50 something carriers and few dozen manufacturers to all agree on something, that never happens, so SMS is gonna get a huge upgrade and hopefully, if we’re lucky, this RCS thing is gonna finally kill SMS dead.

So what do you think? Is this crazy plan of Google’s actually gonna work or are you just gonna keep on using whatever text messaging app you use right now? Let me know in the comments, and hey while you’re down there, hit the like button, that’s fun. .

Google is finally going to fix the messaging mess on Android. In this bonus episode of Processor, Dieter Bohn exclusively explains how Hangouts and Allo are getting replaced. Subscribe: https://goo.gl/G5RXGs

Processor is a weekly YouTube show that takes a deeper look at how consumer technology is changing and how we should think about our gadgets as people, not just as users.

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