Google is about to begin a campaign to move the mobile industry on to the next generation of messaging – and well placed industry observers expect Apple to follow this year.
The new messaging system is Rich Communications Services (RCS), which is expected to leap ahead of 25-year-old SMS text messaging technology by offering users video and other services.
Google is expected to upgrade the Android operating system to “to change the messaging client to RCS”, David O’Byrne, the IP communications project director at the GSMA, the mobile industry association, told Capacity.
The industry is aiming for a so-called “universal profile” that will mean all new Android phones will be RCS-capable and existing Android phones will be upgraded through a software update. “It depends on Android version,” said O’Byrne.
Google – which moved into RCS in September 2015 by buying New York-based Jibe for an undisclosed sum – has appointed a number of companies to an Early Access Program for RCS business messaging.
One of the companies, UK-based Esendex, said that RCS “represents a huge leap forward in smartphone technology. For example, when a customer books their local taxi, they won’t just get a message to say it’s on its way, but a map, perhaps a photograph of the driver and even the opportunity to change the journey, all through text message.”
But one of the issues with RCS is that Apple has still not officially bought into the technology. This is important because Apple has a 12.5% market share of the smartphone market worldwide, but 34% in the US.
That will mean iPhone users will see just an obsolescent text message on their phones if a friend or a company sends an RCS message. “We’re working on an SMS landing page for iPhone users,” said Amy Robinson, product marketer at Esendex. “It would give them a message with a logo, but wouldn’t be as interactive as RCS.”
According to O’Byrne, the GSMA has had meetings with Apple about adopting RCS standards. “There’s been lots of engagement with them” since early 2017, he told Capacity. “We know they are getting the case for RCS.”
He noted: “Google is not deploying RCS because of the goodness of their hearts, but to keep them in the ecosystem.” Apple recognises it does not have 100% of the market for phones so needs a technology that works across the industry.
Another industry observer, who did not want to be named, said: “There’s been engagement with Apple about how it is going to play with RCS. Would it be a major breakthrough for Apple to join RCS? Yes, no question.”
Robinson at Esendex said: “What will Apple do? That’s the question that everyone wants to know.”
For the mobile industry, it will be the second attempt to roll out RCS – though this will be the first time with the weight of Google behind it. In 2013 the GSMA started a project called Joyn, but it was supported in a limited number of national markets and failed quickly.
This time RCS won’t have its own brand, as Joyn was, but will be simply a background upgrade of messaging software. But now the industry is wondering how much of a market share RCS will have. “We’re looking at WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as well,” said Robinson.
Other companies in Google’s development programme include 3C, Aldeamo, CLX Communications, CM Telecom, Experian, ICF Olson, IMImobile, Impact Mobile, Link Mobility, MessageBird, mGage, Mobivity, Movile, OpenMarket, SAP, Silverstreet, Take, Tiaxa, Vibes, Vonage (Nexmo), Waterfall, Zenvia, and Zipwhip.