Close your eyes and think about what you’d like Google to be working on right now. I don’t know what madcap ideas you came up with in the gap between the last sentence and this one, but it’s unlikely to have “improving text messaging.” Still, if it was: good news! Google is working on improving SMS messaging with “Chat.”
According to The Verge Chat is not an app to file alongside Allo, Hangouts, Hangouts Chat and Android Messages. It’s an ambitious attempt to bring SMS messages into the modern world – well, modernish: it’s kind of the same thing that Apple did with iMessage seven years ago.
As The Verge explains, “Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS.” It’s a system called Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services (no wonder they prefer to call it “Chat”), and Google wants it to become the default for text messaging, with SMS as a fail safe. To that end, Chat spruces up the standard text messaging section of your phone, with modcons such as read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images, video and group chats. You’ll be charged for data, rather than from your (likely unlimited) SMS allowance, and if you’re messaging somebody without Chat installed, it’ll show up as a traditional, boring SMS.
There’s one key difference between Chat and iMessage: encryption – which is to say that Chat doesn’t have it. While that likely won’t affect most people, it does mean that your messages will be kept on your network provider’s servers, leaving them open to police and/or government requests.
So will you care when Chats arrives? Probably not. Back when I was at school, SMS – charged at 10p per useless, truncated message – was all important, but nearly everyone I know has switched to WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts now. I can think of just two people who are only reachable via text message, and while I’m sure they’ll welcome the new features if they notice them, I can’t see this bringing messaging app users back to standard messaging. If we have all these features elsewhere, why would we bother reverting to a slightly more hobbled version? It’s too little, too late – at least if you’re interested enough in tech to be reading Alphr. Although there were still 96 billion SMS messages sent in the UK in 2016.
The bigger mystery, perhaps, is how Google will integrate this into its smorgasbord of messaging solutions – and indeed why it cares when so many people are abandoning SMS in droves for better solutions. Crucially though, Google doesn’t have a foothold in any of those. If this plan pays off, and Google’s own Android messaging app becomes a lot more useful, then the company can push the stuff it really cares about…
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