In a surprising move, Apple has announced today that it will adopt the RCS (Rich Communication Services) messaging standard. The feature will launch via a software update “later next year” and bring a wide range of iMessage-style features to messaging between iPhone and Android users.
Apple’s decision comes amid pressure from regulators and competitors like Google and Samsung. It also comes as RCS has continued to develop and become a more mature platform than it once was.
I don’t know, I’ll keep using Signal with my Android friend’s.
A bit of note as an iOS/iPhone user I hate iMessage, but I’m glad RCS is coming to the iPhone for E2E Conservation between iPhone and Android user’s.
I do sometimes wish iMessage wasn’t the default messaging app/service in the United States.
If this is true (and there are no major caveats) this seems like a big win for practical privacy for the masses (and by extension us in the privacy community since most people most of us communicate with are not in the privacy community).
Say what you want about Apple (there are plenty of valid things to criticize them for) but some of the steps they’ve taken in the last few years have made privacy accessible and practical for less technically sophisticated and less informed or less motivated users.
I believe Apple’s intentions are primarily self-interested (more or less forced by threat from EU regulators and simmering public pressure) if a self-interested or semi-forced decision happens to extend privacy to more people, I certainly won’t be one to complain.
edit: After reading the article, it seems I (and you) may be jumping the gun with respect to encryption. The Article does not mention if E2E encryption will be implemented. Not all RCS implementations enable E2EE and the article doesn’t specify if Apple plans to. I suspect that they will, but the only mention of encryption is:
Apple also reiterates that iMessage is far more secure and privacy-friendly than RCS. iMessage is end-to-end encrypted […] Meanwhile, Apple says that RCS does not currently support encryption that is as strong as iMessage.
Yeah. I highly doubt they will add end-to-end encryption personally, given that E2EE is a proprietary Google extension to the RCS standard, and Apple has only committed to supporting universal profile (the standard as published by GSMA).
I really wouldn’t count on anything besides functional group chats, read/typing indicators, and higher media quality until Apple announces otherwise.
Edit: Also I just read this from the linked article lol. I’m not sure if this was added in a later update:
Finally, Apple says it will work with the GSMA members on ways to further improve the RCS protocol. This particularly includes improving the security and encryption of RCS messages. Apple also told 9to5Mac that it will not use any sort of proprietary end-to-end encryption on top of RCS. Its focus is on improving the RCS standard itself.
For comparison’s sake, Google’s implementation of end-to-end encryption is part of the Messages app on Android rather than the RCS spec itself.
Not sure what video you are talking about, or how it relates (do you have a link?), but like @Jonah I think this change is the result of much larger structural/legal factors with respect to the EU and the DMA. That in combination with more and more people pushing for a cross platform solution / criticizing Apple for standing in the way, has probably helped Apple see the writing on the wall, and decide to get ahead of it (for PR among other reasons) rather than waiting to be forced by the EU. This is just speculation, but it stands to reason, and is inline with some of their other recent changes.
This also could be a cynical attempt to get ahead of any legislation to better protect their strategy of locking users into their ecosystem. From Apple’s point of view, keeping RCS and iMessage separate, even if they use the same app for both Proto’s better allows them to keep the walls of the garden up, than if the EU forced iMessage to be opened, or forced a change to an open protocol. If one app handles two protocols, they could still keep the colored bubbles as they are, and they could still make the group messaging experience deliberately shitty when its a mixed group of Android/iOS users like they currently do.
The TL;DW is that Nothing (the “Android OEM that most people have never heard of” I referenced above) built a custom iMessage client for Android and released it to the public like… 2 days ago. It works like how Beeper handles iMessage.
Google’s implementation is proprietary and not part of the RCS standard.
Are you referring to the Google Messages app itself, the RCS protocol, or the encryption protocol?
I know the app itself is proprietary which is not great, but afaik, encryption is accomplished using the signal protocol (source) which is an open protocol to the best of my limited understanding.
If I understand, what you are saying is that this (the Signal protocol) is not part of the RCS spec yet (I believe in part due to resistance or apathy from the carriers towards e2ee) so by using it, Google is going behind RCS in a way that makes their implementation non-standard?
The Signal Protocol is just an encryption protocol, like how Transport Layer Security is also an encryption protocol for example. It still has to be combined with an application, in the same way that TLS has to be combined with HTTP for you to get HTTPS. The way that application actually functions and interoperates with other technologies is entirely up to the application, not the underlying encryption protocol.
The fact that Google Messages, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, etc. all use the Signal protocol has nothing to do with interoperability or compatibility between systems either. This is also why all of these messengers suck in comparison to the actual Signal app, because the Signal application is far more advanced in many ways than just the Signal protocol alone.
In this case, end-to-end encryption on Android’s side of things is entirely a “Google Messages” thing, not an “RCS” thing. My understanding is that RCS has no concept of E2EE at the moment, and Google’s implementation of E2EE is just slapped on top of it at their proprietary application level.
Google hasn’t built their E2EE key exchange system in a manner which federates, because they’re Google, so why would they? So Apple would either need to use Google’s key server to support Google’s encryption, and of course that would never happen; or Apple would need to create a real standard alongside Google which is actually decentralized, which… they might based on them saying their “focus is on improving the RCS standard itself,” but I wouldn’t hold my breath!
Unlike the RCS messaging servers, the key server is currently only hosted by
E2EE is implemented in the Messages client, so both clients in a conversation must use Messages,
otherwise the conversation becomes unencrypted RCS
As a European looking in, it’s unfathomable to me that people actually get discriminated against over sending regular SMS over iMessage. Is this comical exaggeration or do you guys have any stories of stuff like this actually happening?
I’m sure this is very well known, but to reiterate, most of Europe still charges for SMS, so messaging services like WhatsApp reign supreme. I would be more surprised if someone actually sent me an SMS, my SMSes for the last few years have all been verification codes.
Though from what I recall much of the reason Google has ‘gone their own way’ with RCS is not because it was their first choice, or for lack of trying, but due to apathy and/or reluctance from Carriers, OEMs, and other stakeholders. Or at least that seems to be how the tech media framed it.
I don’t know if this explanation also extends to why they implemented e2ee in the app instead of trying to include it in the protocol, or if there were other reasons. But my understanding is that unlike Apple and iMessage, Google does not unilaterally control the RCS standard, so they can’t just decide to implement something in the protocol like they can in their own app.
I find the idea of Apple voluntarily creating an open and interoperable standard even less likely than Google. But who knows, if Apple decides to jump into the ring with RCS, maybe they will now see it is in their interest to use and improve the standard itself, in contrast to their usual approach.
As to Google, some of the things I read about their implementation of E2EE in messages suggested that Google is not actually opposed to interoperability, and are willing to work towards that with interested companies (just PR or earnest intent?), in either case this leaves the door open at least slightly to the possibility that e2ee could be included in the universal profile at some point (though I believe that the carriers have significant control over this, so I think it would need buy-in from them even if Google + Apple agree on it).
But to comply with the DMA - should they be designated gatekeepers - they would have to provide the same level of security as on iMessage. And because RCS in comparison is not end-on-end-encrypted they would still have to go further than that and provide additional functionality when interoperating with other messengers …
So the timeline is super confusing rn because if Apple decides to use RCS to comply with the DMA, they have to bring E2EE to it sooner than later
Yes, unfortunately, this actually happens. It is very common among US teens and is probably one of the leading reasons to why Apple devices are disproportionately popular among teens. According to a recent study: (Link to study/survey here)
87% of teens own an iPhone [and] 88% expect an iPhone to be their next phone
I have firsthand experienced this and many people around me openly say they perceive Android devices as “slow, low quality, and bad” even though many have never used an Android device. The stigma of turning a group chat green is often enough pressure for people ditch Android. A lot of this sentiment has to do with the fact that Android has a much larger scene for budget devices than iPhones do, making the average phone seem worse. There also seems to be a popular sentiment in the US that a more expensive device is inherently better or higher quality.
While many people use iMessage, it wouldn’t be fair to say that many people don’t use other platforms. Discord seems to be a popular option where I live, especially among people who play video games with friends.
— TLDR / Summary —
In conclusion, in a world with growing insecurities and mental health issues, the last thing most teens want is another reason to be made fun of or bullied especially because they are “too broke to buy a iPhone”. iMessage only compounds this by alienating Andriod users and associating them with a worse user experience. (SMS “green bubbles”) Many people don’t want to stand out or be perceived differently and with public perception and pressure from friends, will switch to an Apple device.
Yay! I can finally shutdown my BlueBubbles (iMessage to Andriod translation self-hosted service) server. (well, probably not until next year) I am honestly super happy this finally got implemented as it will help bridge the gap between IOS and Android.
This is a win-win for everyone and just makes messaging more better overall. It just makes both platforms more convenient (reactions + larger images and files), more secure (potentially EtE?), and a better user experience (less problems with “green bubbles” or compatibility)
Thank you for your wonderful detailed reply.
Yeah, I suppose among younger people it would especially be used as a factor to make fun of people about. I find this especially confusing as there are no shortage of devices rivaling iPhone pricing, at least nowadays.
Regarding your BlueBubbles server, I’ve read a bit more about the RCS introduction and it seems like there will still be “green bubbles”, for Android users, just that this will improve the experience, namely higher quality images, reactions etc.
With that in mind, you may want to hang onto the server lol
It’s still hilariously close minded that people would discriminate based on device choice, it reminds me of the old Sega vs. Nintendo arguments that children would have. I heard it also seems to affect dating? In that if you match with someone and they have “green bubbles” then that would affect that person’s decision to date the potential partner. Wild stuff altogether.
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