Nov 16, 2023 - Technology

Apple to support open messaging standard, but will keep iMessage exclusive

The Apple iMessage app and logo are seen in this photo illustration

Photo illustration: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Apple Thursday took a small step toward opening up iPhone messaging by announcing that next year its phones would support a richer messaging standard called RCS, allowing for, among other things, better video calls with Android smartphones.

Yes, but: This doesn't mean Apple is opening iMessage — the popular instant messaging program that most iPhone owners use — to non-Apple devices.

Why it matters: Google, Samsung and many Android users have been calling on Apple to open up iMessage, or at a minimum, to support the improved messaging standard.

What they're saying: Apple said in a statement that it will begin supporting RCS later next year.

  • "We believe the RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS," it said in the statement. "This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users."
  • Google praised Apple's move. "Everyone deserves to communicate with each other in ways that are modern and secure, no matter what phone they have," a representative said in a statement to Axios. "We're happy to see Apple take their first step today by coming on board to embrace RCS."

Zoom in: How messaging is handled on the iPhone has been a major bone of contention for years. Apple typically handles messages sent between two iPhones using its proprietary iMessage system, represented with a blue bubble.

  • Messages sent between an iPhone an Android or other type of smartphone use the older SMS or MMS standards and show up in green.

Google has already embraced the more advanced RCS for messaging on Android devices.

  • RCS can support a number of features beyond what is possible over traditional texting, including group chats, location sharing and video calls.
  • It's unclear exactly which RCS features Apple will support, and how it will do so. Apple declined to comment beyond its statement.

Between the lines: The ability to remain in the "blue bubble" ecosystem is seen as one of the big incentives for iPhone owners to stick with an Apple phone when they buy a new device.

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