Hell freezes over – Apple to support RCS messages from Android phones next year

iPhone 15 Pro Max
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Apple will finally add RCS messaging standard support to the iPhone through a software release early next year, the company told TechRadar.

RCS or Rich Communication Services, a communications standard developed by the GSM Association and adopted by much of the Android ecosystem, is designed to universally elevate messaging communication across mobile devices. Even though Apple has been working with the group, it has until this moment steadfastly refused to add RCS support to iPhones. Now, however, Apple is changing its tune.

"Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association. We believe the RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS. This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users," said an Apple spokesperson.

Apple now acknowledges that RCS is an improvement over MMS and SMS but made it clear that RCS is not replacing iMessage and its host of features like memojies, stickers, and the ability to edit and unsend messages. Instead, the RCS standard support will arrive in an unspecified software update and then it will be up to carriers to add it.

When RCS does arrive on your best iPhone, though, it means the end of the "green bubble shame" for your best Android phone-owning friends, family, and coworkers. They'll be able to send and receive high-resolution photos and videos from their phones to your iPhone. Group messaging could become platform agnostic. And they'll be able to share their location with you through RCS-supported messaging.

There is, naturally, a wrinkle here. The RCS standard still doesn't support end-to-end encryption. Apple, which has offered encrypted messaging for over a decade, is kind of a stickler about security. Apple says it won't be supporting any proprietary extensions that seek to add encryption on top of RCS and hopes, instead, to work with the GSM Association to add encryption to the standard.

As long as third-party apps support the universal RCS standard, though, they will work with Apple's incoming RCS support.

Apple offered no details on which iOS update might include RCS support. And it's unclear just how many generations of iPhone will support the communication standard.

A messaging breakthrough

The news comes long after Apple's biggest competitors and Android leaders, Samsung and Google, introduced support for the standard. Google has been particularly critical of Apple's seeming refusal to support what is clearly a better – at least in some respects – universal standard.

“Everyone deserves to communicate with each other in ways that are modern and secure, no matter what phone they have. That’s why we have worked closely with the mobile industry to accelerate the adoption of RCS, and we’re happy to see Apple take their first step today by coming on board to embrace RCS. We welcome Apple’s participation in our ongoing work with GSMA to evolve RCS and make messaging more equitable and secure, and look forward to working with them to implement this on iOS in a way that works well for everyone,”  a Google spokesperson told Techradar in an email.

The announcement also comes just days after Nothing skirted Apple's RCS rejection and brought iMessage to its Android-based phones.

At the time, many wondered how Apple CEO Tim Cook might react to this "cheeky" move. There's no indication that this is a direct reaction. In fact, it's more likely Apple saw the writing on the wall as the European Union has, with its Digital Markets Act, pressed the tech giant to get in line with multiple standards. The body clearly achieved some success with USB-C ports that are now featured on all iPhone 15 models.

Surely, the EU would've been compelling Apple to adopt RCS in 2024. Now it doesn't have to bother. Apple is on board.

By the way, no word on if this RCS support will introduce a third message bubble color.

Updated 11-16-2023 4:45 PM ET: Added a comment from Google.

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Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.