Yesterday, Google revealed its plan to finally catch up in the race for mobile messaging dominance. It's called Chat, and it's going to make your texts more colorful, lively and interactive.
But where will you use Chat? Will it kill SMS? How does it stack up on security? Here's what you need to know about Google's new Chat technology.
Google Chat will finally make texting on Android a vibrant experience
The big news is that texting on Android will start to be as fun as it is in Apple's iMessages platform. Google told The Verge that its new Chat technology adds typing indicators, bigger, full-resolution images, video and read receipts. This is meant to keep Android messaging from being left in the dust by Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and the large mass of other messaging apps.
Google's Anil Sabharwal, a vice president of Product at the search giant, told The Verge that he wants to add Smart Replies (which Inbox, Allo and Gmail users are already familiar with), Google Assistant, and Google Photos into Chat. Also, GIFs and stickers are also expected features, as they're practically a standard on most messaging apps.
Chat is a service, not a new app
Instead of developing an app that every phone maker has to add to its phones — you don't need another, and neither do I — Google's Chat technology will come to life inside of Android Messages, and other apps whose developers opt to support it. Samsung's own messaging app, for example, will support Chat. You can download Android Messages if it's not on your phone already.
Pixel, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, ZTE and Android One devices already have Android Messages, and back in February, Google announced that Blu, TCL/Alcatel/Blackberry and Essential added their names to the group of device-makers who set Android Messages as the default messaging app.
SMS is getting replaced by RCS
Chat is based on a new messaging standard that Google has cajoled partners into supporting, the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services (RCS). RCS is meant to replace the SMS (Short Message Service) that most Android testing is currently working on.
You might remember my article about how Google recently began a rollout of RCS messaging for businesses, for richer communication with customers. This would bring similar messaging to all.
It's not as secure as iMessage or Signal
Chat won't offer end-to-end encryption, a privacy feature that Apple's iMessage and other apps such as Signal offer. Instead, it will follow the same legal standards for message interception as SMS.
Chat could come to the PC
Google isn't the only operating system-maker who has signed onto the Universal Profile for RCS: Microsoft is also on board. Whether or not that means a Chat-supporting app will land on Windows 10 is unknown, but the door is open.
Carriers will bring Chat to users, but timing is TBA
Google told The Verge that the Chat services will be enabled for users on a carrier-by-carrier basis. Carriers on board with the Universal Profile for RCS include AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Rogers and Orange.
As for when that happens, Google is expecting that many carriers will follow through this year (2018), but admits that some might dawdle. So, expect to yell at customer service if your phone doesn't get Chat when your friends do.
There is no clue as to whether or not Apple will support Chat. What I am sure about, though, is that since Chat's less secure than iMessage, Apple is extremely unlikely to replace its own service with this new standard.
The people you message will know if you have Chat, as your texts will revert to the SMS fallback. That's the same thing that happens now when iPhone users see green bubbles when they text Android users.
Say "Goodbye," Allo
After less than 50 million Android users (that's a paltry share of the "more than 2 billion" active Android devices) installed Allo, Google's last attempt at a mobile-focused messaging app, the company is "pausing" development of that app. Allo featured smart replies, Google Assistant, stickers, doodles and larger emoji, but simply failed to launch.
Since Google wants to fit those features into Chat, Allo will most likely fade away, to be classified as obsolete.