Google’s ever-changing strategy around messaging apps seemed to stabilize a year-and-a-half ago. At that point, the company settled on Allo for consumer messaging, Hangouts for corporate messaging and SMS for texting. While this covers the bases, it was never a strategy that was going to seriously challenge WhatsApp, iMessage or Facebook Messenger with their advanced features that modern users have come to expect.
The Android Police website has recently taken a look at the code for the latest release of Android Messages, the Google app for SMS. They found a couple of features that may indicate that Google is beginning to take a new approach to messaging.
First, it appears Google is moving to allow people to send SMS messages from a web browser. Similar to the process in WhatsApp and Allo, you will be able to scan a QR code to connect your computer’s browser to your phone. The code seems to support multiple browsers and multiple computers. This is evidenced by the wording in the app that suggests it will show you all the computers you have connected to the app and most major web browsers are listed in the new version.
This would fill in a missing part to Google’s messaging plan that third-party apps have grown to fill. But this is not as interesting as the other thing that the Android Police found because SMS by itself is an old technology that is not going to give people what they expect from a modern messaging app.
Rich Communication Services (RCS) is the standard which adds modern touches on top of SMS. It adds features like higher resolution images, read receipts and typing indicators. RCS requires carriers to implement it and implementing it in a way that is compatible with how the messaging app creators are implementing it. So, there hasn’t been much traction for it so far.
That other thing Android Police found was code for a pop-up message that reads, “New! Text over Wi-Fi and data.” That’s pretty much RCS. Then, in the fine print, there is this line, “Chat features are powered by Google. By continuing, you accept the %1$s.”
RCS, like any other messaging protocol, needs a cloud infrastructure to work. So that leaves four possible meanings to what Android Police found in Android Messages
First, the code could mean nothing and is just a red herring.
Second, this might mean that there will be features that will run on Google’s carrier, Project Fi, and is only intended for those who use Fi.
Third, Google may be setting up the infrastructure for advanced messaging capabilities. If any carrier doesn’t want to deal with RCS, they can use Google’s technology instead.
Fourth, Google has somehow found a way to create a messaging platform running on Google’s services without upsetting the carriers and allowing it to copy Apple’s strategy and bypass SMS entirely.
It might be too much to expect Google to use that last option given the lack of attention they have paid to messaging over the years. Still, they’ve stayed steady on one messaging strategy for 18 months. It’s probably time for them to throw out another curve ball.
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One more thing that Android Police found is evidence that Google is planning to support purchase through the Android Messages app. They had previously included the ability to pay friends through Google Wallet, but that didn’t work for transactions with businesses.
The version inspected by Android Police is version 2.9.050 and is available for download now.