Goodbye, postage-stamp-sized videos with my family

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read
Goodbye, postage-stamp-sized videos with my family

Chance Miller broke the news on 9to5Mac today that Apple will be adding support for RCS in an iOS update coming "later next year". Let's party, everyone!

As a supporter of Apple adding this for a few years now, of course I'm happy, and I think most people who use an iPhone (in the US especially where we still use SMS a ton) will be happy once they have it too. A few improvements you'll get include:

  • Sending and receiving messages over Wi-Fi if you don't have cellular data at the moment
  • Much larger media attachments instead of the postage-stamp videos you have with SMS
  • Typing indicators (can be disabled)
  • Read receipts (can be disabled)
  • The ability to join or leave group chats

There's also a generally better reliability in group chats, something SMS has been notoriously terrible for, often leading to some people in a chat getting a message and others not.

The one big thing this doesn't improve over SMS is security. Just like SMS, your messages are unencrypted and anyone who is able to intercept them or participates in the delivery of said messages can see them if they want. Is that great? Nope. Is it at all worse than what we're literally doing every single day on our phones already? Nope.

As far as I can tell, the arguments against Apple adding RCS to the iPhone have generally fallen into two categories:

  1. It would make iMessage's lock in less powerful if messaging with green bubbles was better
  2. RCS's unencrypted nature makes it fundamentally unfit to be used in the modern landscape

Argument #1 is an argument against your own personal experience because of something beneficial to Apple's bottom line. I don't know how to argue against this one because in my book, the only people who should prioritize Apple's needs over your and my needs are Apple employees and investors. I don't know how to argue with you if you think it's actually good that texting with your friends and family is worse than it needs to be. I'm just not sure what to do with that.

Argument #2 is absolutely a thing to be upset about with RCS. I too wish that there was an industry standard for messaging that was always encrypted, but there isn't. We can hope for that or we can choose to move our messages over to apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal that offer better options here, but we could have done this for years with our SMS friends and many of us (especially in the US) have failed to do this and SMS is still terribly common. I'm not saying RCS is perfect, I'm just saying it's better than what we have on our iPhones at this very moment, and this concern is no different than what we already have. It feels like throwing the baby away with the bathwater…the perfect being the enemy of the good.

Of note, RCS messages can be encrypted, but there needs to be a key exchange that happens, and there's no standard way to do that so currently you need to be using the same messaging app as the other person to get encrypted messages. So if we're both using Google's Messages app, then we can be encrypted, but if one of us is using Samsungs app, we can't. I also believe group chats can not be encrypted. What this means is that Android users currently have some chats that are encrypted, some that are not, and I could see why that inconsistency in the same app could be frustrating. Again, that's exactly how it is in Apple's Messages app as well. You, fellow nerd probably know that blue bubbles are encrypted and green ones aren't, but do you think most people do?

A third argument I've seen crop up today in my Mastodon mentions has been that people were concerned Apple would replace iMessage with RCS, and that those like me who advocated for RCS were hoping would happen. I've seen other people suggest that Apple won't do anything more than the standard RCS spec, so they won't do some of the fancy things Google has done with RCS to make their messaging app more like iMessage.

On the first part, this was never on my mind, and I didn't think that was ever implied in the arguments up until now. Maybe they were, but I've always seen iMessage as the default and preferred way to message from an iPhone, while RCS would be the fallback if iMessage wasn't possible. That's how it works with SMS today, and now RCS will just be the first fallback (and SMS will stick around as a second fallback). As for Apple not doing everything Google does, sure, I would also expect them to do the bare minimum and anything beyond that is a bonus. But again, even if they do the bare minimum, your green bubble conversations will now be more reliable, allow you to share non-shitty photos and videos with friends and family, send over Wi-Fi, and better manage group chats. That sounds alright to me.

Ultimately I'm relieved today. I expect there will be things to complain about and bugs to fix when RCS rolls out next year, but I'm happy that we can move past the "should Apple add RCS" conversation and actually start using it relatively soon. My guess is no iPhone user's life will get worse, many will get better, and we'll quickly forget there was ever an enthusiastic debate over this in the first place.