Google on Tuesday announced that it's rolling out support for Rich Communication Services, or RCS, protocol to Android devices that support it through its Messages app.
Although Google didn't create RCS, the rollout is Google's latest answer to Apple iMessage, because it includes read receipts, full-size image support and other features, all right inside Google's messaging app. But unlike iMessage, it won't support end-to-end encryption, which scrambles messages at all points between sender and receiver, making it harder for eavesdroppers to read them.
When you normally send texts on Android, you're using the older SMS standard. But with RCS support, you don't rely as much on a cellular connection. So, for example, you can still send and receive texts when you only have a Wi-Fi connection instead of just cellular, much like iMessage.
Google said users will also get better group chats with "the ability to name groups, add and remove people to and from groups and see if people haven't seen the latest messages."
The features are also similar to what you'd find in standalone apps such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, but they are built right into the text messaging app.
Apple doesn't yet support RCS and instead uses iMessage, which has even more features, including end-to-end encryption. iMessage has been viewed as one of the major reasons people continue to stick with iPhones instead of switching to Android. (Apple also has a history of making it difficult to switch from iMessage to texting if you decide to switch from iPhone to Android.)
Unfortunately, RCS doesn't work with iMessage. Someone on an iPhone will still see you as a green bubble, for example, instead of a blue one that says you're using iMessage. You'll get all the new features only if you're texting between RCS Android devices.
The feature is rolling out around the U.S. now, Google said, and users will start to see a prompt over the coming weeks to enable the new advanced features. You need to use the Google Messages app, however, which you can download from the Google Play Store. The feature is already live in the UK, France and Mexico, and Google says it will eventually roll it out to everyone around the world.
To see if it's available on your Android phone, first download Messages and then open it.