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iMessage vs. Google's new texting update: Can Android's messaging app take on Apple?

Google finally launched RCS messaging, so Android users can see read receipts and typing indicators when texting, two features that used to be available only on iPhone.

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Google is rolling out RCS texting for Android phones, which will perform similarly to Apple's iMessage feature. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Google is finally replacing traditional SMS text messaging with a more Apple iMessage-like texting option that offers read receipts, the ability to message over Wi-Fi or mobile data, and the ability to leave group chats. The improved texting is powered by technology called RCS, which stands for Rich Communication Services, and begins rolling out Thursday, Google said. Most Android users in the US will get the new texting features by the end of the year. 

While the RCS-powered texting will give Android phones texting capabilities that are similar to Apple's iMessage feature, the two are not exactly the same. Here are the differences between Android RCS texting and Apple iMessage, with additional information below. 

Google RCS messaging vs. Apple iMessage

Feature Google RCS message Apple iMessage
Chat over Wi-Fi or mobile data Yes Yes
Send and receive high-resolution photos and videos Yes Yes
See when someone is typing to you Yes Yes
See if people received your messages Yes Yes
Name group chats Yes Yes
Add or remove people from groups Yes Yes
See if people in a group have read the latest messages Yes Yes
Encrypt messages No Yes
Create a profile with your name and photo to share with others No Yes

Android RCS messaging

Android is replacing the 25-year-old SMS (that's Short Message Service) texting protocol with RCS, which gives users the ability to chat over Wi-Fi or mobile data, see when someone is typing to you, and see read receipts, according to a Google blog post. Users will also be able to name group chats, add or remove people to and from groups, and see if people in the group have seen the latest messages. 

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Android's new RCS chat feature allows you to name group messages, add and remove members, see who is typing and see who read the latest messages. 

Google

Unlike Apple's iMessage and other messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, Android RCS texting will not offer end-to-end encryption, which secures messages so only the sender and receiver can read them, Sanaz Ahari, director of product management for Google's communications services, told CNET's Rich Nieva

Android rolled out these messaging features earlier this year in the UK, France and Mexico ("We'll continue to work on bringing this to everyone on Messages around the world," Google says). To use RCS, both your phone and your wireless carrier have to support it. In October, the four major US wireless carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint -- joined together to form the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative, an effort aimed at standardizing RCS starting with Android in 2020. 

Google is doing a slow rollout, so only about 1% of US Android phones will get the update on Thursday, while most others will see the new messaging features by the end of 2019. Android users can turn on RCS by opening the Android Messages app and enabling chat features (the app should give you a prompt to do so). Once RCS has been rolled out, you'll be able to use the Messages app as you normally do, and when you message someone who also has the feature turned on, the new type of messaging will be enabled. You can revert back to SMS if you choose.

Apple iMessage

Apple's Messages app combines texting with the company's proprietary iMessages platform, which first launched in 2011 with iOS 5. The company adds new features to Messages with every major iOS release, an effective way to keep users in the Apple ecosystem. Apple's iMessages platform includes all of the same features as RCS messaging, as well as end-to-end encryption, the ability to create a profile with your name and photo to share with other iMessage users, and the ability to add Memoji stickers to messages. 

You can currently use iMessage on any iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac. 

Will Apple and Android messages work together? 

No, at least not for now. Google's RCS texting won't make a difference in Apple-Android text interactions unless Apple decides to support it on iPhones, Ahari told CNET -- and it's unlikely that Apple will do so. So you're still a green bubble, sorry.

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