Apple has surprised everyone by announcing that it is ready to adopt RCS (Rich Communications Service) messaging across all its iPhones at ‘some point in 2024’. The inclusion is likely to come as part of a software update, the company says.
The move comes after many years of Apple holding out on the Google-created messaging service – a stance that has been seen as one of the main stumbling blocks to RCS not gaining the widespread adoption that Google and others in the non-Apple messaging world had hoped.
In fact, in 2022, Apple CEO Tim Cook’s advice to anyone wanting to end having to message their android using relatives without seeing the green bubbles was to “buy your mom an iPhone”.
However, mounting pressure from the EU and its Digital Markets Act to make Apple open up its closed iMessage ecosystem to third parties is likely to have forced Apple’s hand.
User experience pressures are also a likely driver, with the need to use SMS and MMS for rich content messaging from iPhones to other non-Apple devices increasingly not being up to the job.
It is also important to note that this isn’t Apple opening iMessage up to RCS. iMessage will continue to be Apple’s defaut messaging platform, with RCS accommodated separately. Apple insists that iMessage is the most secure messaging service available, but concedes that with SMS one of the least, it is time to embrace RCS which is more secure. It also positions Apple as a player in making all messaging more secure, which again will please regulators.
So what does the telemedia industry make of the move? Nick Lane, Chief Messaging Officer, Messagologist, and Founder, Mobilesquared, says: “It’s surprising and unsurprising in equal measure. Apple was under pressure from higher powers to open up its (i)messaging borders, and Google has been trying to force the interoperability issue with Google Messages/RCS for years. While it means a more consistent messaging experience between Apple iPhone users and Google Android users, the impact this announcement has on business messaging is yet to be understood. The brand and enterprise verification process alone already throws up numerous implications and issues for each party. Regardless, if this is the first, albeit, tentative, step towards a more unified business messaging platform to help drive growth – and brand and enterprise adoption of rich messaging – then it can only be a great thing.”
Molly Gatford, Research Analyst at Juniper Research, agrees. “Apple’s intention to support RCS on its range of iPhones greatly increases the value proposition of RCS to enterprises. This is because the total addressable user base will increase substantially, and enterprises will now be able to communicate with a large proportion of their customers.
“SMS prices continue to increase, with AIT (Artificially Inflated Traffic) fraud being a key contributing factor to this. As a result, the demand for SMS is plateauing, with enterprises expected to lose out on revenue to OTT players,” she says. “Therefore, it is likely that RCS business messaging will emerge as a key strategy for operators to maintain business messaging revenue growth.”
Gatford concludes: “RCS is available on the majority of tier 1 operators globally and support for the messaging channel is well established in developed countries. The immediate boost to the addressable RCS userbase following Apple’s support will increase the potential monetisation opportunities for operators. This will also result in more operators supporting RCS as a technology”.
Rafal Nowak from messaging company HORISEN believes that the move by Apple makes the battle between SMS and OTT messaging yet more complex and will have interesting repurcussions for all messaging types.
“Since the introduction of the first dialogue driven mobile communicator, we at HORISEN are observing the constant struggle for market share between different OTT apps and native messaging solutions.,” he says. “There are many influencing factors like regional regulation, first entrant advantage or the OS platform itself. This diversity is significantly influencing the strategies in Business Messaging and it favours the one total-reach / cross-platform channel that we know so well – SMS.”
According to Nowak, until recently, most of the industry experts would bet their money on Meta’s WhatsApp for Business, “but Apple’s decision to offer support for the Rich Communication Services Universal Protocol from 2024, seemingly is going to mess around with Meta’s odds in near future.”
He concludes: “Of course, there is a long way to a unified A2P environment under the wings of Apple and Google but already in 2024, we will be able to test the interoperability in the P2P sphere. HORISEN’s Omnichannel Business Messenger and the global team of messaging experts are ready for the new challenge.”
Meanwhile, Inderpal Singh Mumick, CEO of Dotgo, one of the world’s largest RCS business messaging hubs, is understandably delighted. He believes it is a victory for all and a game-changer for the messaging ecosystem. “RCS has been rapidly accelerating, with over 1 billion unique users globally. RCS business messaging has also been surging, with hundreds of millions of paid business messages per month. Apple’s support for RCS will turbo-charge RCS adoption amongst consumers, brands and carriers and take it close to 3 billion unique users by 2024. All doubts about RCS are behind us. Sayonara, SMS,” he says.