Google aims to rival iMessage with new Chat service

20 Apr 2018

Android mascot at Google HQ. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Google is aiming for its new messaging service to replace SMS for Android.

For many years, Android users have lamented the lack of a simple, user-friendly and well-designed messaging experience such as Apple’s iMessage.

Google has been trying for a long time to improve Android messaging with a series of apps, most of which are now defunct or barely hanging on. From Google Wave to Allo and Buzz, the attempts have been manifold.

How will Chat work?

According to The Verge, Google has been recruiting the world’s major mobile carriers to adopt new technology with a view to replacing SMS completely.

The new venture is called Chat and is based on a standard called the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services (RCS). As SMS is the default texting method on an Android handset, Google wants to improve it as much as possible as opposed to creating yet another messaging app.

The company is putting development of its latest messaging project – Allo – on ice as it uses its team to concentrate on this new plan.

Chat is not a standalone app and should be thought of more as a new set of tools within the app already installed on most Android handsets. It won’t be end-to-end encrypted, so those of you that value security may want to stick to something such as Signal.

Timing for the roll-out of Chat will vary between mobile operators, and Chat messages will be sent with your data plan as opposed to your SMS plan. If the person you are texting doesn’t have Chat enabled or is not using an Android, the messages will switch back to SMS, much like iMessage.

Making messaging enjoyable

Anil Sabharwal is the leader of the Chat project and is also the man behind the well-received Google Photos app. He is now tasked with making the default Android texting experience an enjoyable one, as well as one that can compete with a slew of established messaging rivals.

Google had to convince more than 50 mobile carriers and many handset manufacturers to adopt the new RCS standard, which is no mean feat considering the rivalries between many of these companies. It may be annoying for some users as they wait for their carrier to support the new protocol, but Google believes that most will be on board by the end of 2018.

Sabharwal said: “This is not a three-to-five-year play. Our goal is to get this level of quality messaging to our users on Android within the next couple of years.”

In terms of new features, Chat will offer read receipts, typing indicators, group chats and full-resolution media. Google will also likely build a desktop interface for texting, much like WhatsApp’s, and will eventually add capabilities such as stickers and GIFs.

Android mascot at Google HQ. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects