A Guide to RCS, Why Apple’s Adopting It, and How It Makes Texting Better

If you’ve been keeping up with all the news out of WWDC 2024 this week, you’ll know that Apple is bringing the RCS (Rich Communication Services) messaging standard to iPhones later this year with iOS 18. That’s a win for Google, which has long backed RCS on Android. But what actually is RCS? And why does supporting it matter?

The short version: It’s an upgrade on the standard SMS/MMS texting standards that smartphones have been using from the start. It brings better support for all the cool features we’re used to in our messaging apps, like read receipts and images, and it adds some extra security layers too.

Yes, it’s a lot like using iMessage from Apple, or using WhatsApp—though it’s not quite that simple. There’s no RCS app you can install, but you can find apps that support the RCS standard, as we’ll explain.

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RCS is coming to iOS this year.

Courtesy of Apple

So the long version: Rich Communication Services is a fundamental standard rather than an app like WhatsApp, Signal, or Telegram. It requires carrier support to work, which is why adoption was slow in the beginning, though RCS now works across most countries and is supported by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) weren’t really built for the modern way that we communicate through our phones, and RCS tries to fix that. It adds or improves support for sharing large-resolution images and video, group chatting, read receipts, video calls, and messages that actually go beyond 160 characters.

When RCS is supported in your phone’s default texting app, you can add reactions to messages, see when someone else is typing, and drop extra elements like GIFs, stickers, and your current location into conversations—all features you may well be used to and accept as standard in other apps.

There are changes and upgrades behind the scenes as well. Whereas SMS/MMS requires a data connection to your cellular network, RCS works over cell networks as well as Wi-Fi. If you don’t have a cell signal for whatever reason but you can find a wireless network, your message can still go through.

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