Google teams with Sprint on next-generation texting

MobileNovember 4, 20166:00 AM PDT

Sprint Android customers will get an enhanced text messaging experience through the updated Google Messenger app.


The SMS text-messaging experience hasn't changed much in more than 20 years. But that will change for Sprint subscribers on Android devices starting today thanks to a new update to Google's Messenger app.

Google said in a blog Friday that Sprint will be the first carrier to use its RCS-enabled Messenger app to update its text messaging service on Android devices.

What is RCS? Rich Communication Service is basically the standard for the next generation of SMS text messaging. It adds new features to simple text messaging, such as seeing when someone is typing back a response to your message and getting notifications when someone has seen a message. It also includes improved functions on group texts, which allow people to be added and deleted from group chats. And because RCS works over the internet, it also frees users from the constraints of simple SMS, allowing longer messages and high-resolution photos to be sent.

Of course, none of these features are new for people who have been using chat messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger, Apple's iMessage or Whatsapp. But this new standard brings similar functionality to basic SMS service already integrated into your phone.

"The beauty of SMS is that more than 4 billion people throughout the world use it," said Amir Sarhangi, head of RCS at Google. "It's ubiquitous and it's already embedded in your phone."

Google announced in February it would work with more than 56 wireless carriers around the world to integrate the standard developed by carriers through the GSM Association into its Messenger app. Sprint is the first company to announce that Google's RCS client in its Messenger app will work on its network.

Next year, all new Android devices from Sprint will come with Messenger for Android preloaded as the default SMS and RCS messaging experience. Subscribers currently using select LG and Nexus phones from Sprint will have the messaging experience upgraded automatically through an app update, and subscribers using other Android devices can download Messenger from the Google Play store.

The promise of RCS is that it will eventually bring a consistent and updated messaging experience to all mobile subscribers on all devices across networks, but it's not quite there yet. Sprint Android customers will only get this "enhanced" messaging experience when they're texting with other Sprint customers on Android devices running the updated Messenger app. When they're communicating with people on other carriers or devices that use a different operating system, like Apple's iOS, they'll have the regular SMS experience.

Even though AT&T and T-Mobile have also rolled out the RCS standard, it's not yet compatible with Google Messenger.

Google's Sarhangi said interoperability among carriers and eventually among operating systems is the next step. Google plans to announce compatibility with more carriers over the next few months.

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