'Chat' is Google's alternative to Apple's iMessage, and is based on RCS

Alonzo Simpson
April 20, 2018

Google is switching gears in the messaging space once again, and will now focus on a new service called Chat, which will try and improve the standard SMS app on Android phones.

Google is reportedly "pausing investment" in Allo to double down its efforts to push Chat.

RCS or Rich Communication Services is an enhancement layer based on SMS or MMS.

Once enabled, it promises to allow for richer and multimedia friendly messaging features found in other texting apps like iMessage and WhatsApp.

Like WhatsApp and iMessage, Chat will also have a desktop interface for texting. According to The Verge, Google is trying again to fix its messaging mess, and this time they are trying something different. Still, there exists a fundamental difference between the working of iMessage and Chat where the Apple based service uses its own servers to route messages the Chat application is going to do that using the telecom carriers. Unlike Allo, Hangouts, and Android Messages, Chat will not be an app. Google had marketed the Allo messenger as a flawless messaging app and it comes loaded with a number of features including stickers, GIFs and also a web-client.

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Security experts have warned that Chat does not offer encrypted communication. This partnership with the operators is a work in progress and also potentially one of the factors that may make Chat hard to succeed.

So Chat is not just another messaging app, but instead it is a "carrier-based service" that will be turned on by default inside the Android Messages app (if your carrier supports it). As RCS messages shouldn't be more than a couple of bytes, this shouldn't really affect anyone, though carriers could ultimately change how Chat messages are billed. Also, GIFs and stickers are also expected features, as they're practically a standard on most messaging apps.

Chat messages will affect user's data plan and not their SMS plan (unless a message is sent via SMS). The report states that Google has been trying to get the backing of every major cell phone carrier on the planet, and has reportedly seen some considerable success in the U.S. Currently, 55 carriers (including AT&T and Verizon), 11 OEMs, and Microsoft are all said to have agreed to support the standard. Just open up Android Messages, then send a text message. Now though, 55 carriers, 11 OEMs, and two operating system providers have promised to adopt the new technology or make the necessary switch for it.

Anil Sabharwal is the leader of the Chat project and is also the man behind the well-received Google Photos app. This means that if a recipient isn't on Chat, the message will be converted to SMS/MMS, which is what Apple's iMessage is already doing.

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