SAN FRANCISCO (Circa) - We’ve had texting on our cell phones for decades, and despite the coming of smartphones halfway between then and now, the outdated way we send messages -- 160 characters at a time, with low-resolution pictures and videos -- hasn’t changed and is, well, outdated.
Until now. Because text messaging is finally getting an upgrade.
Read-receipts, typing notifications, easier group texting, the simple sharing of GIFs and stickers, and full-quality picture and HD video-sharing. These are all features that, until this point, you needed to have messaging apps like iPhone’s iMessage or Facebook’s Messenger to use, but they are now finally headed to the basic text-messaging platform that billions and billions of phones around the world operate on every day.
It’s all thanks to a technology simply called “Chat” and technically called Universal Rich Communications Services (RCS). It was created by the GSMA, adopted as a project by Google, and should be reaching most Android phones in under a year.
"You and I will be able to just have a conversation -- chat, share media, do a lot of things -- without having to know if we have a compatible application," explained Carlos Bosch, the GSMA's head of technology in North America.
But Chat won’t just mean new and useful messaging features between you and your friends and family. The opportunity it gives businesses to bring rich media into text message threads with the billions and billions of texting smartphone users in the world could also make Chat, not apps, the way you order food or book an airline ticket in the future.
"[You can] connect to a sandwich shop and be able to see the menu," Bosch said. "Text me my boarding pass, and that boarding pass should be interactive. I should be able to select my seat [right in the messaging app]."
The new Chat platform for texting will work either through Wi-Fi or over cell service, like most of the app-based messengers you can use today. One thing it won't offer that many of those do is encryption, which means, like SMS texting today, your cell carrier – and, ultimately, any government agency with a hankering for collecting phones records – will have access to the communications you have on it.
Google’s part in all of this is that it’s gotten many Android phone makers to agree to eventually use its Chat-enabled Messages app as the text messaging app that comes built into their phones. This will ensure that the experience between texters, on almost any Android phone, is as similar as possible.
One exception here will be Samsung’s phones. T-Mobile just rolled out Chat support on its Galaxy S7 phones, but through the built-in Samsung Messages app. It still handles much of the same rich media that Google’s app will, but it probably won’t get the Google ad-ins that the search giant has planned for its Chat app -- built-in, live Google Assistant support, could be one example.
The other phone company not signed on to use Google’s Chat app –- and all together not signed on to use Chat, or Universal RCS, at all -- is Apple. That means the green bubble problem that keeps your iMessage friends from including you and your other Android pals in group chats isn’t going away –- at least not at first.
The good news is that Bosch and the GMSA believe Apple will eventually come around.
"We expect them to launch RCS in iMessage soon," he assured. "The GSMA is in continuous communication and collaboration with Apple.
In the meantime, Android customers across the four main carriers in the US can expect to receive updates that brings Chat on their phones in the coming months.