Android has a major issue. Sending texts, photos, and videos between phones is an unreliable, unencrypted mess. To make matters worse, iPhone users will bully you for the color of your texts, let alone everything else. So why is texting on Android stuck in the past?
Several factors are behind the awful messaging system Android users are stuck with. To find out why, you need to look at the history of messaging, how technology has moved on, and the political dynamics between the companies controlling the market. There are other options we could switch to, and some of those options would be good to go if a major, fruit-shaped, barrier wasn’t blocking progress. So let’s take a deep dive into why messaging on Android is so bad that its users are better off sticking to Whatsapp.
If you’re an Android user or have ever messaged an Android user, you’ve probably noticed a few of the flaws with the messaging system it uses. There’s no encryption, Wi-Fi messaging isn’t an option all of the time without third-party apps like WhatsApp or Telegram, and group chats function, but they don’t function well. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Sending any form of media is where Android’s messaging system shows its weakness. Have you just taken a cute video of your dog? Better send it over Facebook Messenger because if you text it, the recipient will more than likely receive a five-second, soundless clip of some vaguely animal-shaped pixels. In some cases, pictures can be slightly more forgiving, but it’s still bad. A single image sent via text will be viewable on the phone, but with caps as low as 1MB when sending pictures via text on some networks, it probably won’t look good anywhere else. Sending multiple photos is possible, but that small data cap will split between them, and the results will be unviewable. The network’s limitations aren’t the only issue; it’s the system Android uses to send messages that causes most of the problems.
There is a scenario where none of these problems occur, and that’s when two Androids are messaging each other with RCS enabled. At that point, you’re basically using the Android equivalent of iMessage. But RCS isn’t always enabled, and the chances are you aren’t always messaging another Android.
Phones send text messages over the Short Message Service (SMS) system and media via the Multimedia Message (MMS) service. Both of these systems began development in the 1980s, and the first SMS message was sent in 1992. They were great at the time, given the limitations of cellular devices, and worked fantastically for a couple of decades. However, in that time, the devices sending the messages have advanced quite drastically.
Since 1992, we’ve gone from home internet being a vague niche, never mind people having broadband speeds on their phones, to 5G service across a large chunk of the world. The smartphones people are using to communicate can record 8K video and take extremely high-resolution photographs. While the phones and most of the services available have adapted to those advances, SMS and MMS have stayed roughly where they were 20 years ago.
Messaging on Android is a significant problem, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by tech companies. Google is probably the biggest company dedicated to fixing the texting issue, which makes sense when you consider Android phones rely on text messaging and Google owns Android. To solve the problem, Google has been pushing for a more up-to-date messaging standard — Rich Communication Services (RCS), which first arrived in 2007 and is more capable of matching modern messaging requirements.
The potential new standard offers the ability to send high-definition photos and videos, send encrypted messages, enable read receipts, and offers a host of other features that will drag standard phone-to-phone messaging into the modern era. RCS is already available on Android phones, but it requires an app that supports the service, like Google’s messaging client.,
It also only works when messaging from an app or device that supports RCS to another app or device that supports RCS. There are a few around, but many carriers are dumping theirs and just defaulting to Google’s. It’s also worth noting that RCS isn’t always enabled as default, and some phones don’t come with an RCS-capable messaging app, so you’ll have to grab one from the play store.
This is a major flaw in the standardization plan as Google can’t seemingly get the things it has control over in order. Even if Android ends up with a standard, iMessage-like app for texting it isn’t going to work when texting non-RCS phones. And there’s one, very large, company refusing to get on board.
It’s time to address the big, blue elephant in the room. Apple’s iMessage has none of these problems. Users can send encrypted messages over Wi-Fi or through their phone’s LTE/5G connection. There are numerous little features, such as the ability to like messages and tag members of group chats. Sending videos and images is no problem. The catch is that this only works when sending those images between iPhones. When you send something to or receive it from a device outside of Apple’s ecosystem, it will use the SMS/MMS system, which is still the standard 30 years on.
There have been attempts to address this issue, but the fruit-logoed company doesn’t play well with others. Ironically, Apple could have been the ones to bridge the gap, and an iMessage app for Android was discussed as far back as 2013 before the powers that be killed the idea. Apple choosing not to be proactive is one thing, but now Google claims its Silicon Valley rivals are why we don’t have a new, modern messaging standard. Around half the United States has an iPhone, so you can’t establish a standard without Apple on board. However, if all phones have access to something on par with iMessage, instead of something 20 years behind and borderline unusable, Apple loses a significant selling point. To put pressure on Tim Cook and Co, Google has launched a campaign highlighting the issue and encouraging SMS users to vent their frustration on Twitter.
If you’re waiting for a better texting service, don’t hold your breath. Google is correct, the ball is in Apple’s court, and a bit of pressure from a few social media accounts is unlikely to make Apple crumble. Apple has previously resisted attempts to jump on board with standardization. It’s always been a company that did its own thing and expected others to follow where possible. Even the combined governments of Europe telling Apple to get on board with the USB-C standard prompted heavy resistance from Apple. The company may ditch the port entirely instead of complying. Other standards, like HDMI, haven’t had an easy time either. With a lot of Apple products, you may have to buy an expensive adapter if you want to use them alongside a non-Apple device.
While Google has its motives, the new standard has been developed and is there to take up. But Android users will be stuck with an outdated system until Apple has a huge change of heart or the government decides to intervene. In the meantime, Americans might want to consider a leaf out of Asia and Europe’s book and let a third-party app meet their messaging needs. An app called WeChat is the standard in places like China, Western Europe tends to prefer WhatsApp, and Telegram is big once you head east of Germany. Signal is also an option. Sit down with your friends and decide on what app works best for you.