Although we tend to think of text messaging and SMS as synonyms, that’s not quite the case. SMS (short messaging service) is simply the original technical standard for text messages. In recent years, there’s been a drive to switch to RCS (rich communications services, or rich communications suite), a more sophisticated text messaging standard.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, mostly due to the rivalry between Apple and Google, and that’s something Google wants to change …

Let’s start with a little background.


Text messaging was first introduced back in the days of feature phones. It used a standard known as SMS, which was a very basic one geared to the limited capabilities of phones at the time. It was limited to 160 characters, and only alphanumeric ones. The closest you could get to emojis was “emoticons”: using ordinary punctuation characters to create things like smiles :-) and frowns :-(.

Because SMS is a key communications standard, every phone today can use it, whether iPhones or Android phones.

On iPhone, you know when a message uses SMS because it will be a green bubble rather than the blue bubble of iMessages, which use a far more sophisticated Apple-specific messaging system.


With the advent of smartphones, there was a need for a more advanced form of text messaging. The GSM Association – the standards body for mobile phones – came up with RCS.

The plan was for all carriers and smartphone makers to adopt RCS. The older SMS standard could then be retired.

Google was a fan of RCS, so this has now been adopted by all Android phones – as it was a way to enable iMessage-like features. Apple has so far not added support for RCS, so the would-be universal standard is currently Android-only. That’s why we still need the elderly SMS standard to allow communication between iPhones and Android phones.

Switch to RCS with our help, says Google

Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer decided to tease Apple.

The reference to group chats breaking when there’s one Android user in an otherwise iPhone-only group message related to this:

Lockheimer’s tweet is obviously a tongue-in-cheek one: Apple wouldn’t need any help adopting RCS; it’s simply that the company doesn’t want to do it.

One popular theory is that, in some social circles, it can be seen as embarrassing to be “the green bubble person” in a group chat, and Apple sees that as a selling point for iPhones.

Personally, I hope that both bubble snobs and Apple get over themselves, and that Apple adopts RCS alongside iMessage. Sadly, however, this tweet is unlikely to help the cause.

Photo: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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