Android Chat And RCS Messaging: What Does It All Mean?

Image: Getty Images

Google is finally rolling out its advanced text messaging feature, Chat, after being in the works for a few years. While it might sound like a reach, it has the potential to revolutionise the way we communicate via messaging. Let's explain why.

How To Manually Enable RCS On Android Right Now

It’s been a while since Google announced plans to push RCS adoption so that Android users could finally move on from the outdated SMS technology, but most users are stuck waiting for their mobile carriers to flip the switch at some point in 2020—that is, unless you decide to take matters into your own hands and flip those switches yourself.

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What is RCS messaging?

RCS, which stands for Rich Communication Services, and is an upgrade to the SMS, Short Message Service, we've all been stuck with since the late '90s. Despite apps like Facebook's Messenger, WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage being around for ages offering more features like GIF support, read receipts and simple group messaging the humble SMS has remained largely the same since it was first released. It's a bit basic, which is probably why many of us prefer to use messaging apps that require internet instead of data charges.

RCS messaging, first formed in 2008, is essentially the features of these apps but inside your regular messaging app. Sort of how you've got Basic Text Editors and Rich Text Editors on the internet. RCS has been around for years but given carriers have yet to really adopt it, it's been sitting around collecting dust while ye ol' SMS does the brunt work. That's all about to change with Google's announcement.

And Google's Chat is an example of that?

The messaging apps of Android devices have long been Google's Achilles' Heel. Unlike Apple's iMessage, which is pretty well-loved by those who use it, Android users have less positive things to say about its messaging app given its limited capabilities. Google recognised this and has been working on improving it since 2018 and RCS messaging is its answer.

Chat, as it's called, has been announced by Google and is rolling out across the United States. It'll use your mobile data (internet), as opposed to network data (what you usually use for calls), and switch over to Wi-Fi usage when you're connected.

While there was no specific mention of Australia, I've been able to access its features with a Pixel 4 device using the Telstra network. It allows me to send images, GIFs, send my location, record a voice message, share a contact and attach a file.

Image: Lifehacker Australia

While all sorts of Android devices will support it, not just Google's, it doesn't appear to be supported yet by Apple devices. Similar to iMessage, it's not likely messages sent between the devices will function well.

When are Australians getting it?

As always, our cousins across the Pacific will be getting the feature from today but some Australians might already have access. As mentioned, I tested it with a Pixel 4 using the Telstra network and it was already connected. It seems likely Google devices are already on board, given Google's the creator, and eventually other devices will be supported in the coming weeks and months.

How To Check If You Have Access To Google's RCS Messaging

RCS messaging is here—thanks, Google—but there’s still a chance that you can’t flip the switch on it because, again, Google. Yes, it’s another feature rollout, which means you’ll be staring at your phone for some unknown amount of time, hoping it reveals to you the setting you can use to turn on something that sounds really awesome on paper.

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    This article seems poorly researched.
    To add some of my own poorly researched points:
    - I'm pretty sure most (if not all) Android phones compatible with the most recent version of the Android Messages app are compatible with RCS. Not just Pixel 4 or Google's phones.
    - Other apps can also implement their own support for RCS. I'm sure others already have, but I have no clue which ones (I did say my points were also poorly researched, right?)
    - Telstra is currently the only Australian carrier with RCS support. I'm on Woolworths Mobile, which runs off Telstra's infrastructure, but I do not have RCS capability yet.
    - No clue on any timelines for any other Australian carrier. I'd hoped this article might have some information in this regard, but apparently not.

      Have you made sure your phone number is entered under settings/advanced/phone number? I didn't have the option until I sorted that out. Now it works

        Okay, that's weird. I went to check (and yes, my phone number was entered) but before even getting there, the Chat features were enabled. I guess this was recent, because it was not working last week.
        Now to figure out who else in my contacts has these features and how to utilize them.

    Telstra's instance of RCS is an internal network. It doesn't interlink with Google's global version of RCS, so you can't chat with people with other carriers/in other countries.
    You can force yourself onto Google's version if you know how to modify the hidden RCS settings in the Messages app though.

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