We’ve been hearing about RCS, the replacement for SMS texting, for over a year now, but actually using the next-generation service has been nearly impossible due to complicated carrier and phone maker politics. But now Google is taking over: later this month, Android users in the UK and France will be able to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their carrier to support it.

That seems like yet another minor status check-in on the service meant to replace SMS, but in fact it’s a huge shift in strategy: as Google rolls this offering out to more countries, it should eventually mean that RCS will become universally available for all Android users.

For the first time in years, Google will directly offer a better default texting experience to Android users instead of waiting for cellphone carriers to do it. It’s not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it’s close. Not knowing when or if RCS Chat would be available for your phone was RCS’s second biggest problem, and Google is fixing it.

RCS’s biggest problem is that messages are still not end-to-end encrypted. iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal are secured in that way, and even Facebook has said it will make all its apps encrypted by default. Google’s chat solution is increasingly looking out of touch — even immoral.

But there is hope on that front as well. The product management director overseeing Android Messages, Sanaz Ahari, assures me that Google recognizes the need for private chat within RCS and is working on it. Here’s her full statement:

"We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we’re fully committed to finding a solution for our users."

What it means to you should be simple: if you have an Android phone, the timeline for when the RCS switch will be available has become shorter. Google says that it will release the services to more countries “throughout the year,” but wouldn’t commit to saying that it would be available in all regions by the end of the year. However, as Ahari puts it, the goal is “a great, simple user experience that just works for every Android user.”

As with all things related to Google’s messaging strategy in general, and Rich Communication Services (RCS) specifically, none of this is happening with the speed or clarity I’d like. But it’s happening, finally, and there are a lot of details to go through if you want to fully understand how it will work and what it means...


Read more: Google is finally taking charge of the RCS rollout - The Verge