Google has had an embarrassing past when it comes to messaging apps. Despite, the company is upbeat about moulding the SMS service on Android phones in a way that should have been the preferred course in the initial years of Android.
Google is unstoppably recreating its messaging app strategy once again. The Mountain View-based company is now shifting its focus from its Google Assistant-powered chat app Allo to a new platform called Chat. Chat is essentially a new service that Google is working on for the Android Messages app, for which it has partnered about 55 telecom companies across the world, including Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone in India. Google is planning to take on Apple’s iMessage with the introduction of Rich Communication Services or RCS that will combine SMS and instant messaging into a single app.
In an interview to The Verge, the head of Google’s communications team Anil Sabharwal said that Chat will be based on the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services (RCS). The Chat app will be a more enhanced SMS app that will also integrate the services offered by platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram. While Android Messages app will be the default app to be powered by Chat in future, the partnership with telcos will see some other standalone apps running Chat service. This comes alongside another announcement that Google made that it is now “pausing investment” in Allo. However, Sabharwal insists that it does not mean that Allo will be shuttered, instead, Google is “continuing to support the product.”
Google has had an embarrassing past when it comes to messaging apps. Despite, the company is upbeat about moulding the SMS service on Android phones in a way that should have been the preferred course in the initial years of Android. It has been working on the Rich Communication Services for a long time, which is now seemingly bearing fruits. RCS is a new protocol service that runs on the Internet allowing the exchange of multimedia content such as images, GIFs, videos across the devices. Google is also looking to enrich this service by adding support for Google Search, Google Assistant, Google Photos, and a web interface with a QR-code login process, similar to WhatsApp Web.
Currently, 55 telecom operators including Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone in India, 11 OEMs including Lava, Intex from India, and 2 OS providers are a part of the Chat platform. The two OS providers are Google and Microsoft. While Google is doing its part to make SMS service on Android drastically better, Microsoft might be a latecomer. The Verge in its report cites Microsoft saying that RCS Universal Profile for capabilities such as dialer or SMS or other rich apps is considered on a device-by-device basis, and where there is a demand for such features.
Sabharwal also said that the company is looking to cover more than 1 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, riding on the partnerships with telecom companies. The rollout of the Chat service will depend on the telecom companies as they will choose a right time to begin the incremental release of Chat service. Sabharwal added that by the end of this year, there will be a clear roadmap of the service, and by the mid-next year, a large number of users will be able to enjoy Chat platform. The rollout will vary from region to region, where Europe and Latin America will receive it before the US.
As for the iPhones, the Chat service will not render much because of the platform restrictions. The Chat messages sent to iPhone will appear as regular SMS, much like how it is for iMessage on any other phones. Sabharwal emphasised that the Chat platform will be open for the telecom companies to give it a shape as per their preference and business model. Meanwhile, it is not known as of now whether the Chat platform will ever arrive on iPhone.