We live in an age of encrypted communications, from the ubiquitous WhatsApp messaging platform to social media sites like Snapchat.
Yet at the same time, more than 95 per cent of us still send text messages.
Most of these are dispatched through our phone’s native messaging app. And in a smartphone market dominated by Android, that means using Google’s Messages app.
While that may seem fine in principle, it’s actually quite odd when you consider how outdated the traditional SMS is.
Android’s texting app lagged behind Apple’s for many years, mainly because Google left it to carriers to extend and update the app. And the carriers tended to ignore it.
But now, Google has regained control.
It recently rolled out rich communication services (RCS) to its Messages app in the UK, bringing domestic Android users bang up to date when it comes to messaging.
Do I have RCS messaging, and how do I use it?
Google’s RCS roll-out has been relatively quiet, and it’s currently only supported by a few carriers and devices.
It’s possible to find out whether your phone offers it by opening the messages app and going to an existing conversation.
Look at the bottom of the screen, next to the blank bubble awaiting your next message. Is there a plus sign beside the photos image?
If you have RCS messaging, tapping the plus sign will reveal a box of delights including GIFs, animated stickers and a voice recorder for adding audio messages.
Alternatively, you can go into the Settings > General menu in Messages, and make sure ‘chat features’ are enabled. Chat is Google’s name for RCS.
If you’re running Android but not RCS, you still have a couple of options.
First, go to the Play store and select the Messages app. This will tell you whether you are running the latest version, or whether an upgrade is needed.
If you are running the latest Messages but still don’t have RCS, make sure your SIM card has your phone number associated with it.
To do this, open the Messages home page, go to Settings and choose your SIM.
If your number isn’t listed in the ‘phone number’ section, fill it in and save it.
It’s important to be aware that the RCS roll-out is ongoing. Some handsets and carriers simply don’t support it yet.
Sending an RCS message to someone whose device doesn’t support it will mean the message appears as a normal SMS/MMS message.
What are the benefits of RCS?
The introduction of RCS messaging means Android users can add loads of high-quality multimedia content to their text messages.
This is particularly true if location finding is enabled, supporting customised and localised information that you can send direct to your contacts or share in a group chat.
Want to take a friend to the cinema tomorrow? It’s possible to ask Google Assistant to show you what’s on where (and when), before sending that information to your contact.
Your contact can then access relevant online content, without leaving Messages.
While the standard emoji library remains untouched, RCS adds stickers and GIFs. It also supports audio clips, contact sharing and files attachments – all with a few taps of the screen.
It even allows verified companies and contacts to send useful stuff to you.
For example, travel firms can send boarding passes with interactive content.
Businesses can also distribute invoices, which may be settled directly within the app using Google Pay.
A word of caution
While this new service will come as welcome news for many Android users, there are a couple of things to bear in mind.
One is that current Google chat features don’t support end-to-end encryption. In theory, your message contents could be viewed by your carrier.
(It’s worth noting Google has committed to deleting messages as soon as they reach the receiving device.)
Another point to remember is that contacts with iPhones probably won’t receive RCS messages, because Apple has an incompatible messaging service.
The iOS/Android split in the UK is around 50:50, so we must hope a few compatibility tweaks are on the horizon.
On a global scale, given Android’s 70 to 80 per cent market share, the RCS roll-out will surely be a cause for celebration.
It could even give people a reason to ditch proprietary messaging services like WhatsApp.
Sometimes, the old ways are still the best.