Apple adopts Rich Communication Services Apple adopts Rich Communication Services

Messaging has been an essential part of communication even before the dawn of the mighty always-connected handheld personal computers. Their ancestors, cell phones with buttons and small monochrome screens (proud owner of Nokia 8850 here), knew how to ride the Short Message Service, or SMS. The first text was sent on December 3, 1992, and it was “Merry Christmas.” MMS, Multimedia Message Service, started rolling out in March 2002; it was not an evolution of SMS but a piggybacking extension thereof. The actual next-gen carrier-supported messaging vehicle is Rich Communication Services, or RCS.

What are Rich Communication Services?

RCS is a communication protocol that turns messaging through the integrated service into something closely resembling chatting via WhatsApp, Telegram, and the like. It was developed by GSMA, a non-profit organization of mobile carriers, and launched on September 15, 2008. RCS is part of the IP Multimedia Subsystem.

Rich Communication Services, compared to SMS and MMS, which are just plain text and images, offer a more dynamic and secure way to text and share pictures/videos/files. It’s already part of the Android experience, and Apple, lagging behind, recently announced adoption of RCS sometime in 2024.

Do we really need RCS?

Number of RCS users and enabled devices, as of January 2022. Snapshot of GSMA websiteNumber of RCS users and enabled devices, as of January 2022. Snapshot of GSMA website

Well, all things considered, it is basically inferior to messaging apps. It hasn’t got end-to-end encryption and relies on standard Transport Layer Security, which means it’s easier for whoever’s interested to tap in and listen (read). And, it’s not going to offer new features, sticker packs, etc., as all the major for-profit messengers do.

But, it’s going to be ubiquitous and universal. Messenger apps are known to be banned here and there, and phone system’s integrated texting capabilities never are (no known instances thereof, at least). And, you’ve probably been in a situation when a WhatsApp message doesn’t go through, while an SMS does. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be with RCS-enabled messaging, too. Plus, numerous B2C businesses rely on SMS for disposable passwords and assorted notifications, so the question of abolishing this capability is not on the agenda.

Rich Communication Services in iPhones

As mentioned above, Apple plans to start supporting RCS in iOS in 2024. It seems like the default built-in messaging service within the ecosystem will still be iMessage, but Rich Communication Services can surely make texting to a not-iPhone a much smoother, natural experience. Let’s hope Apple’s engineers come up with a seamless, no-switch-involved way to use both of those.

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