Sometimes things need to become worse, before they become better. As it stands, no matter how much you spend on an Android phone to get the performance, camera, design, and design aspects spot on, one thing still remains a mess—messaging. Facebook has WhatsApp and Messenger apps, while Apple has blessed iPhone users with the simplicity of iMessage. But on Android, you have an Android Messages app that handles outdated text messages, and then a bunch of other apps that seem to do largely the same things yet feel different. Things could now be changing. At least we hope they do.
It has been close to a decade, but we still don’t know what Google’s best messaging apps are. There is the Android Messages app that looks after the outdated text messages (unless you are a fan of spam messaging urging you to buy property or enrol for personality development classes). Post that, we have Google Talk, Voice, Hangouts, Google Wave, Buzz, Spaces, Allo and the Duo apps that come to mind. Now, however, Google is trying to start afresh, and quite frankly, it is a rather interesting idea they are looking to implement.
In partnership with almost every network operator around the globe, Google is starting off with a service called Chat. It is not a separate app such as WhatsApp or Signal, and neither is it a standard text messaging service. It will instead be based on a standard called Rich Communication Services (RCS), which is considered the successor to the SMS standard.
With RCS in place, the new Chat service will allow users to send messages and get all the features that one expects in a modern day instant messaging app, without having to download a separate app or have to sign up with your phone number or email address. If all goes well, the Chat app will be able to send and receive text messages, videos and photos, gifs, emojis etc.
However, there is one problem. RCS as a method isn’t encrypted, and that itself raises a huge red flag in this day and age. At a time when data privacy and security aspects are on the top of the mind of most app users, having a completely insecure channel of chat and expecting users to shift from the more secure apps they currently use can perhaps be classified as bravery.
But will users shift? As of April, WhatsApp has 1.5 billion active users, suggest research firm Statista’s numbers. Facebook Messenger is third with 1.3 billion users, while WeChat is third with 1 billion users. From all lists indicating IM user base numbers, two apps that are consistently missing are Google’s Allo and Duo. It is as if the two apps never really caught on, even though Allo promised Artificial Intelligence based features and Duo made voice calling simpler.
While Google itself couldn’t get an iMessage rival in place itself, it has now managed to get the operators globally to do a lot of the groundwork for them. This also means that Google can add features to the Chat service and they’ll be available on every Android phone in use around the world. There is expectation that the Chat service will be enabled globally this year. We still don’t know what happens to Hangouts (there is a version for enterprises as well), Allo and Duo apps, and how they tie in with the Chat service, if at all.