Is Google finally managing its messaging mess?

Sadly, the time has come for me to write about Rich Communication Services again. There have been a few pieces of news about it in the past week or so and I find myself vaguely optimistic that by this time next year Google will be offering properly encrypted messaging to Android users with a relatively simple, seamless experience that’s well on its way to being universally available.

Plus, Google is finally starting to transition users from Hangouts to Google Chat in a real way under new management that is motivated to finally get it right because everybody is paying way more attention during the pandemic.

But let’s stick with RCS for the moment. Google has me at the spot where Charlie Brown is at his most tragically hopeful and Sisyphean: right before he resolves to run at the football and really kick it this time despite knowing in his heart Lucy will pull it away again. Except the football in this case is the easy answer I’d like to give to Android users about how text messaging works on their phones.

Instead, the answer is as it ever was. (Deep breath.) RCS is the more advanced replacement for SMS and if the carriers and phones of all texters in a thread support it then you’ll get chat-like features like typing indicators and bigger attachments. But there’s no real way to know whether or not you’ll be getting RCS or plain old SMS until you open up a chat window with one or several people and then wait to see what you get.

If your carrier doesn’t support RCS, you can still get it via Android Messages and let Google handle RCS for you, but it will still fall back gracefully to SMS or MMS. In any case, none of these solutions offer truly end-to-end encryption and there’s no indication Apple is even faintly interested in supporting it on the iPhone.

Good grief.

And yet, I’m going to take a run at that football. Because while I don’t think there’s going to be a simple answer, I do see signs that Google is making tangible progress towards better answers.

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