For a year and a half now, Google’s semi-official strategy for messaging apps has been a three-legged stool: Allo for consumer chat, Hangouts for corporate chat, and good ol’ SMS for texting (with RCS in the future). None of those strategies were ever really going to challenge the players who are leading the messaging app space: WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger.
It’s possible, however, that the last leg of that messaging stool is about to get a lot more interesting. Android Police just dug into the code for the very latest version of Android Messages, the app Google makes for SMS. And inside it are references to two very intriguing features.
The first is pretty straightforward and, one hopes, easy to implement: you may be able to easily send text messages from your computer soon. Just as you can with Allo and WhatsApp, it appears as though you’ll be able to go to a webpage, scan a QR code, and have it get connected up to your phone as an easier way to send texts. Android Police found code that indicates multiple browsers will be supported and, in fact, multiple computers may also be supported.
That’s all well and good — it takes care of a gap that Android users have had to use third-party products to fill for a long time. It’s also not super interesting because, well, SMS itself is not super interesting. Even paired with MMS, it doesn’t offer any of the features you expect from a modern texting app.
Which is where RCS, or Rich Communication Services, comes in. Android Messages has always been Google’s RCS app, but to date RCS as a standard has done what you expect standards to do: get lost in the shuffle as different companies either ignore it or implement it according to their own corporate whims.
RCS takes SMS and gives it some of the features you’d want: higher resolution images, read receipts, and typing indicators, among others. But its adoption has been dependent on carriers implementing it and making it compatible, which is one of the reasons it hasn’t gone anywhere.
That’s why Android Police’s look inside the new Android Messages app is so intriguing. They found code for a pop-up that reads “New! Text over Wi-Fi and data,” which is as close to a layman’s description of RCS as you’ll ever find. But the truly intriguing line comes in the fine print: “Chat features are powered by Google. By continuing, you accept the %1$s.”
See, like any modern messaging app, RCS really needs to be supported by a cloud-based infrastructure to work. Which leads to one of four possibilities for the code Android Police found:
- Nothing to see here. This code is a lark and will come to nothing.
- This is a feature for Google’s own carrier, Project Fi, and this is just the code necessary to turn on RCS for Fi users.
- Google is just beefing up the RCS capabilities inside Android Messages, and if a carrier wants to offer RCS but doesn’t want to deal with the necessary infrastructure, Google will handle it.
- Google has finally threaded the impossible messaging needle: created a modern messaging platform powered by Google services that won’t piss off the carriers too much, such that it can release a messaging app that can do for Android what iMessage does for iPhones: seamlessly supplant SMS.
Given the many, many years we’ve watched Google fail to execute on a messaging strategy that takes advantage of Android’s worldwide dominance, that last option is probably too much to hope for. Then again, it’s been a year and a half since the company announced a major change in its messaging app strategy, so we’re probably due for another pivot.
We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update if we hear back.