Apple makes an about-face on RCS, will support the standard in 2024

Apple is having a change of heart on Rich Communications Services (RCS). Beginning later in 2024 the company said it will support RCS in its iOS operating system. RCS Universal Profile is a messaging standard endorsed by the GSMA as an upgrade to SMS.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed the move to 9to5Mac: “We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS.”

The spokesperson also told 9to5Mac that RCS Universal Profile will work alongside iMessage, the instant messaging program developed and launched by Apple in 2011 and used by most iPhone owners. Notably Apple didn’t say that RCS would replace iMessage, nor did it indicate it would be opening up iMessage to non-Apple devices.

Apple’s decision to support RCS on iOS next year is a big move for the company that has historically been unwilling to support the standard, which has led to fragmentation in the messaging world and caused issues such as blurry videos and broken group chats between Android and iPhone users when they exchange text messages.

iMessages only work if you are using an iPhone and you send a message between iPhones or other Apple devices (such as iPads). If you are using an iPhone and a friend using an Android device sends you a message, it will be sent as an SMS and will appear as a green bubble, instead of a blue bubble.  

Apple’s change of heart on RCS comes after repeated requests from Google and Samsung for the company to support RCS on the iPhone. Google even launched an ad campaign involving billboards, websites and social media asking Apple to “Get the Message” and fix what’s broken in texts between iPhone and Android users.

Ken Hyers, director of device technologies at TechInsights, said that he believes Apple’s decision to support RCS is a way for it to preempt new EU rules that could force it to make iMessage fully interoperable with other messaging services. “I think it’s also a pretty clever move that answers Google and Samsung arguments about RCS, while maintaining the 'green bubble' for users that aren’t part of the iOS bubble,” Hyers said.

Recently the EU forced Apple to change a number of its practices to improve competition and be more consumer friendly. For example, new EU rules require all phone companies to offer a common USB-C charging port by the end of 2024. Apple’s Lightning Cable was incompatible with USB-C so Apple’s latest iPhone 15 now has a USB-C charging port.

Hyers added that because Apple is applying RCS in place of SMS and MMS, he believes security will be improved and other features such as read receipts, which shows when another user is typing, will become available when Android and Apple users message back-and-forth.

He also said that making these changes allows Apple to appear responsive to complaints that it relegates non-Apple users to second tier status but allows it to maintain its position that iMessage it more secure and feature-rich than RCS. “It’s a pretty clever step it has taken: RCS is better than SMS and MMS, but it’s not as good as iMessage. Therefore, Apple won’t bring RCS to iMessage as it doesn’t want to degrade its users’ security and privacy.  The unspoken implication of course is that non-iMessage services are inherently less secure than the messaging solution Apple users get,” he said. 

Some believe that Apple’s change-of-heart also may be a result of the growing support for RCS. According to the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), there are an estimated 1.2 billion devices globally that support RCS compared to just 1.1 billion iPhones in the world.

In a statement, MEF CEO Dario Betti said that he believes Apple’s decision shows that it supports RCS without “celebrating it.”