In an unexpected move, Apple has announced plans to support RCS (Rich Communication Services) on their devices starting next year. RCS is an open messaging protocol that allows features like read receipts, high-quality media sharing, typing indicators, and more between different platforms.
Apple says they intend to roll out RCS compatibility through a software update in the latter half of next year. Their adoption comes after years of urging by competitors and regulators alike. Other major device makers like Google and Samsung have pushed for Apple to get on board with RCS, given their commanding market share. Regulators have also threatened mandated interoperability requirements.
By adding RCS, Apple users will be able to exchange messages with enhanced features when communicating with non-Apple devices. SMS and MMS will still be available as fallback options, but RCS would become the default standard when available.
Apple is quick to note that this change will not affect their proprietary messaging system iMessage. iMessage will continue to be the default messaging experience between Apple users. The company touts iMessage as more secure and feature-rich compared to RCS and will continue to make it their primary focus for iOS communication.
On rolled out, SMS exchanges between Apple and other devices will be upgraded to RCS capabilities where supported. Features like high-res photo sharing, read statuses, live typing indicators, and more will be available.
While falling short of fully integrating ecosystems, Apple’s support does remove many limitations users previously faced messaging non-iOS users. RCS coverage continues to expand across carriers globally, making the standard increasingly ubiquitous.
Apple had resisted pressure to adopt RCS for years, with executives previously stating limited demand. Competitors have since upped their criticism of the disjointed interoperability. Additionally, looming regulation may have forced their hand.
Industry reaction to Apple's RCS announcement has been largely positive. Competitors are touting it as an affirmation of their long-time stance. Analysts see it as an important collaborative move that puts user experience first.
However, some privacy advocates have voiced concerns about security limitations in RCS compared to iMessage. There are also questions around how seamless the integration will feel to end users.
In a broader sense, Apple's support reflects their increased prioritization of cross-platform compatibility. In recent years, they have embraced open standards for a variety of other tech. Certainly, it'll be a nice upgrade in user experience.