At WWDC 2024, Apple announced a lot of exciting things, including AI-based features for its device portfolio. However, one of the most important announcements, marking a significant departure from Apple's way of doing things, went under the radar and did not get the attention it deserved. And that announcement was that the company is finally bringing RCS messaging to iPhones with iOS 18.

This should have been a major reveal, especially since Google has been trying to persuade its Cupertino-based competitor to bring RCS to Apple devices for a long time. Still, in any case, it is finally here now. However, with all the other announcements at the event, RCS got sidelined and barely received the attention it should have. So, what exactly does that RCS in iOS mean? Let's find out!

RCS in iOS 18. Source: Apple

What is RCS?

RCS or Rich Communication System was developed as a replacement for SMS and provides Android users with many of the same chat features offered by Apple's iMessage. While RCS has been around for many years, people have only started adopting it on a widespread basis recently. RCS can include live chats with multimedia, and include images, maps, and more.

The technology is in use with full coverage in several countries, including the USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada. Other countries also offer partial support for RCS, through a limited number of local mobile operators.

What are the features of RCS?

RCS offers several features that make it more powerful than regular SMS. These include verified profiles of businesses and end-to-end encryption for better security, higher character limits in texts, multimedia support with high-resolution images, videos, gifs, etc. Users can also send larger files, view typing indicators, get read receipts, and suggested replies while being able to use Google Wallet and participating in Group Chats.

What Does RCS on iOS Mean?

If you're messaging someone using an iPhone, Apple will let you know whether the person on the other end is using an iPhone or an Android device by displaying blue or green bubbles respectively. Green bubbles mean that the person is using an Android device and relying on SMS and MMS, which do not have the smart features offered by Apple's iMessage system, such as typing indicators, read receipts, etc.

According to Apple, this is a security feature as it indicates to iPhone users that the chat lacks the security and conversational features present in iMessage. So, when you message an Android user using an iPhone, images are compressed and reduced in quality, messages are shortened, and conversations are not end-to-end encrypted.

However, since RCS is already present on Android devices, support on iOS will bring parity between the different messaging systems, so users with both Android and iOS can use all the advanced features that the new messaging protocol brings. Android users will be able to enjoy features, such as group conversations in iMessage, read receipts, and typing indicators. Ultimately, it will result in a better messaging experience for both.

That said, Apple hasn't explained how the system will be enabled on its devices, though it is obvious that RCS will replace SMS on iPhones when it becomes available. However, some features, like the ability to edit or unsend texts will remain exclusive to iPhone users, while those like being able to use the Gemini AI model to draft messages will only be available on Android.

When will RCS come to iOS 18?

Apple announced that RCS will be coming to iOS 18 later this year, without giving a specific date. While the beta version of the update is already available, it does not officially support the messaging protocol, though some users have managed to activate it partially.

According to users who have done so, RCS support is at least currently limited to AT&T and T-Mobile devices in the US. Additionally, end-to-end encryption does not work right now, though it will be present on the final build when it is released later on. iOS 18 is currently available in Developer Beta, with Public Beta set to arrive next month; however, the public update will arrive in the fall.

Apple's decision to finally bring RCS to iOS is welcome news for many around the globe, even though the company tried its best to make it seem like the feature was barely worth acknowledging. For millions of users, RCS support on iOS was one of the most anticipated announcements, even more so than things like Genmoji announced by the company.

Still, there is no information on how RCS will work and what features it will bring to iOS devices. We hope Apple sheds some light on these things before it releases the final version of iOS 18 this fall.