Apple to make a big change to iPhone messages next year

(CNN) – The long-standing battle over the iOS’ blue and Android’s green text bubbles will soon take a more friendly turn.

Apple has announced plans to adopt a messaging standard that will finally bring iMessage features to Android users, eroding what some considered an element of Apple’s walled garden.

The change – first reported by tech site 9to5Mac – will add features, such as read receipt, typing indicators, better support for group chats, and higher quality media sharing of images and videos, across platforms.

Apple said in a statement it will add support for the standard, called RCS (Rich Communication Services), later next year. RCS is considered the replacement to alternatives such as SMS, or short messaging service, and can work over both Wi-Fi and mobile data.

“We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS,” the company said in the statement. “This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”

A push from Europe
The change follows pressure from both regulators and competitors to more seamlessly work across operating systems. The European Union’s Digital Markets Act, for example, requires companies to make their key services interoperable between platforms. Earlier this year, it launched an investigation into whether it considers iMessage a core product.

Meanwhile, Google, which already has support for RCS within its messaging app, has been vocal about wanting Apple to adopt the standard. In early November, the company wrote a letter to the European Commission arguing iMessage was indeed a core Apple product and should be required to comply.

“Everyone deserves to communicate with each other in ways that are modern and secure, no matter what phone they have,” Google said in a statement. “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.”

Apple resistance
Over the years, Apple has pushed back on this type of connectivity. When asked how Steve Jobs would feel about the state of communication across platforms, CEO Tim Cook said last year during a conference: “I don’t hear our users asking that we put a lot of energy in on that at this point.” When an audience member said he wasn’t able to share certain videos with his mother, who was not an iPhone user, Cook responded: “Buy your mom an iPhone.”

The change also comes nearly two months after Apple announced its next-generation iPhone 15 would tout a USB-C universal charging system for the first time. The switch came less than a year after the European Union voted to approve legislation to require smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, portable speakers, and other small devices to support USB-C charging by 2024.

“Both the adoption of the USB-C for the new iPhones as well as the support for RCS messaging is Apple’s way of getting ahead of European Union regulations which would likely have forced its hand in any case,” said Dipanjan Chatterjee, a VP principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Better the company own it and market it to their advantage.”

According to Michael Inouye, a principal analyst at ABI Research, Apple is also expected to work with the GSM Association, a nonprofit that works with mobile operators, to make RCS more secure through encryption and bring it closer to if not on par with iMessage — “something that could benefit all users.”

“Some have also questioned if this will open the door for more Apple users to try new Android devices now that communications will be better supported across iOS and Android, such as foldable phones,” Inouye said. “But I don’t foresee this playing a significant role in changing demand for iPhones.”

Bubble longevity?
The move, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the green bubbles (Android or other users) and blue bubbles (Apple users) that are displayed when messaging someone on the other platform will go away anytime soon.

Chatterjee said that keeping the colors is an Apple marketing strategy that will likely continue, despite the shift to the RCS standard.

“The blue bubble is a badge of the Apple tribe, and this distinctive identity, as well as the company’s iMessage platform, is not going anywhere anytime soon,” Chatterjee said. “Instead, RCS support will enable a smoother and better customer experience of iPhone users communicating across platforms. The company hopes that’s a win-win for all — their customers get to inhabit Apple’s world, but also play nicely with others.”