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Android signs up for official default setting for texting

A single messaging app for Android might be closer than you think, as Google unveils new settings in KitKat to officially set a default text-messaging app.

Google's example of the upcoming default SMS toggle.

The underlying code that powers Android text messaging is about to get a makeover, and that could have far-reaching changes for how people text each other on Android 4.4 KitKat and beyond.

For non-developers, the changes will be practically unnoticeable. As the screenshot above indicates, soon you'll be able to choose a default SMS (Short Message Service) app through the Android operating system itself. Currently, the SMS app developer must make it an option in the app's settings.

The changes to how KitKat will handle text messaging involve altering its application programming interfaces. Google said in an Android Developers Blog post Monday that many Android SMS apps improperly used "hidden" or "private" APIs, which are a protected class of APIs for accessing core system functions such as Wi-Fi radio usage or touch-screen input values. In the case of text messaging, these APIs control how the app interacts with the mobile radio, and have been unavailable to developers until now.

Google will be making the hidden APIs available to all developers, not just those tenacious enough to hunt them down. This means that developers who have used hidden APIs on Android 4.3 and earlier will have to adjust their code to accommodate their new status.

It's not clear at this time whether text-messaging app makers who use the hidden APIs will have to offer two versions of their apps, one for KitKat and later, and another for Android 4.3 and earlier.

More importantly, though, is that the change could be part of the groundwork for the rumored "universal" messaging plans for Android, akin to iOS's iMessage. Google has said that it plans to add SMS support to Hangouts for Android, and the app already can be used for mobile phone and landline dialing. It also has some integration with Google Voice.

Hangouts has been making its way through the Google messaging world, first debuting in Google+ for video and group instant messaging, then taking over Google Chat in Gmail and on Android and iOS.

A request for comment from Google was not immediately returned. CNET will update the story when we hear back.