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Google Messages to Add iPhone Reactions, More Features to Improve Texting to iOS

No more reading who "Liked" your message. In the coming weeks, the emoji will start to appear instead.

Google's Messages app is getting support for message reactions sent by an iPhone and Google Photos integration for sending videos.
Google

The blue and green bubble texting divide isn't going away anytime soon, but Google is trying to make texting between iPhone and Android phones a little easier. Google's Messages app will soon support iPhone message reactions in text threads, the company said Thursday. 

It's one of several new features Google is rolling out to its Messages app in the coming weeks as it seeks to make texting a more universal experience, no matter what phone you use.

The improved support for reactions, which Apple calls Tapback, will likely be a big deal for Android owners with friends who use iPhones. iPhone users can press and hold on a block of text to react to a text message with an emoji. But if you're on an Android phone, you currently see a message describing the reaction ("liked," "loved" and so on) instead of the emoji itself. This update will change that, so you'll soon see the emoji reaction on the corresponding message. The feature is currently in beta but it will roll out more broadly as part of Google's Messages update. 

"When people with Android phones and iPhones message each other, not everything works the way it should," Google's Jan Jedrzejowicz, a group product manager for Google's Messages and Phone app, said Thursday in Google's blog post announcing the features

Messages will add tabs for Personal and Business texts, along with nudges for conversations that may need a reply.

Google

Google has been advocating for more phone-makers and carriers to adopt RCS, a newer texting standard that will enable modern messaging features to work across all phones that support it. The company pushed for RCS support again in its Thursday blog post, citing the older texting standards SMS and MMS as a key reason why conversations between Android devices and iPhones aren't always as smooth as they should be. 

Google's advocacy of the RCS standard and investment into its Messages app comes after many attempts to develop a proprietary texting app of its own. Previous efforts, including Allo, Hangouts, Voice and a few iterations of Google Chat, are either being shut down or repurposed. The RCS-driven features inside of Google's Messages app are also named Chat. Google has spent the last several years investing in its default messaging app to compete with Apple, which has long offered a unified messaging platform for Apple devices that incorporates many features available in the RCS standard. 

But Google is planning more than just support for iPhone reactions. It also wants to make it easier to send full quality videos from within the Messages app. You'll be able to send a Google Photos link to a full quality video within a chat rather than sharing a compressed version of the clip directly over SMS.

Google Photos already makes it easy to share a batch of photos or video, and the new integration should provide faster access from within the Messages app.

Messages will offer birthday reminder nudges and customizable emoji.

Google

Messages is also getting a few organizational features, which appear to be inspired by Gmail and other email inboxes. These include an organized inbox that can sort messages into Personal and Business tabs. 

The app will also nudge you with a reminder to reply to help you avoid forgetting a conversation thread. You'll also get birthday reminders if your Contacts app includes that date.

And for those times where existing emoji aren't quite what you need, the Emoji Kitchen within Gboard will let you add your own customizations. For example, you can swap out the "heart eyes" on an emoji face with pretzel eyes or modify a different emoji, like a food symbol, with additional decorations.

The RCS texting standard, which is so far supported by both Google and carriers like Verizon, brings encrypted messaging, typing indicators, read receipts, higher-quality photo sharing and other features to Android phones. It could eventually supplant the aging SMS and MMS texting standards. 

Although the functionality of SMS and MMS is more limiting than RCS, those standards work across all phones, from iPhones down to basic flip phones. Apple is a major outlier when it comes to supporting RCS, focusing on its own messaging features for its iMessage platform instead. Google's new updates appear to support Google's plans to make its Messages app a stronger alternative to Apple's iMessage while calling for Apple to adopt the RCS standard as an SMS replacement.

The Messages update is part of a larger Google and Android feature reveal Thursday morning, which saw Portrait Blur added to Google Photos, Google TV updates and Google Assistant supporting parking payments among other announcements.

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