Apple is finally adding RCS texting to the iPhone - here's why this is a big deal for me

iOS 18 brings RCS support to the iPhone. That's a win for everyone, Android users included.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
iPhone iMessage with Windows Laptop
Kerry Wan/ZDNET

Apple's iOS 18 is shaping up to be one of the most significant upgrades in the software's history. Between all the AI features and tweaked UI to the broad customization options, it's almost like Apple is revamping the iOS experience as we know it, which will shake things up for iPhone owners for years to come.

Also: iOS 18 beta now lets you send RCS messages to Android users

One of the best features of iOS 18 has nothing to do with the latest innovations out of Cupertino. In fact, it has roots in another part of California: Mountain View.

I'm talking about RCS.

A few years ago, Google introduced Rich Communications Service (RCS) to replace SMS messaging, which has been around since the 1990s. RCS supports a vast array of modern messaging features, like higher quality photos and videos, read receipts, clearer audio messages, and more, making it feel more like a messaging service like Telegram, iMessage, or WhatsApp. 

It took a while for the new standard to roll out, but it eventually reached every Android phone that uses the Google Messages app thanks to broad carrier support.

Despite the feature being available on Android phones for years, Apple has refused to bring it to the iPhone. The company has relied on an inferior experience to remind users that talking to other iPhone users with iMessage beats talking to Android users over SMS. Naturally, it's caused a great level of frustration not just among the tech-savvy begging for high-quality video sharing between platforms, but also among users who simply want a better messaging experience.

Also: You'll soon be able to text 911 via RCS on your Android phone. Here's how it works

Apple iOS 18 RCS support screenshot

Fortunately, we're getting just that. Shortly before European regulators forced Apple to bring RCS to the iPhone, the company announced the technology would trickle onto its devices later on in 2024. Now, we have confirmation that the feature will officially arrive as a part of iOS 18.

Apple didn't spend a lot of time talking about it onstage during WWDC earlier this month. In fact, Craig Federighi mentioned it for about two seconds toward the end of his iOS 18 demo. He didn't mention all the capabilities RCS would bring to iPhones, nor the benefits of it compared to SMS, which signals the company doesn't want to make it a pinnacle new feature of the iOS experience.

Also: Everything to know about Apple's AI features coming to iPhones, Macs, and iPads

Despite Apple's efforts to minimize it, RCS will improve how you text your Android friends. Unfortunately, we don't know everything that RCS will enable on your iPhone. On Android, you can do things like share files, send messages over Wi-Fi, and even see typing indicators. In iOS 18, we only have confirmation for a few features thanks to a feature card on Apple's website: read receipts, (presumably) higher-quality photos, and audio messages. The text field will indicate when you're messaging with RCS, and all of your bubbles will remain green.

Even though we don't know everything about RCS on the iPhone, it's my most anticipated feature of iOS 18 by a mile. Yes, the Apple Intelligence stuff looks cool, and I dig all the customization Apple is adding to the home screen. Still, my biggest problem with using my iPhone daily is sending messages to Android users over SMS, which is oftentimes incredibly slow and unreliable with spottier connections.

Also: Apple's iOS 18 will let you record phone calls without a third-party app

There have been a number of times I've tried texting my brother -- who has a Pixel 7 Pro -- something urgent, only to find out he never received my message for some reason or another. Try to send a photo over SMS, and you'll be praying that it goes through successfully. Forget about video sharing; I resort to Telegram for that.

I realize I could use third-party messaging apps to solve this problem, like I've done with video sharing, but I like to have all my message threads in the same place, and I'd prefer that place to be the same app where I have all my iMessages. With RCS, I'll finally be able to do that, even if Apple doesn't implement all the features that the technology supports.

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