Google rolls out next-generation SMS to Android phones on Sprint

Google teams up with Sprint to introduce a refreshed version of SMS that should be rolling out with other carriers in coming months.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Sprint Android phones will feature group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and more.

Image: CNET

Google is rolling out an upgraded SMS experience based on Rich Communication Services (RCS) to Sprint's Android users.

The upgraded SMS on Sprint is arriving as an update to Google's Messenger app, the app Google wants Android fans to use for SMS.

The new SMS service will run on Google's Jibe RCS platform, which it gained through its acquisition of Jibe Mobile in September 2015.

Features it brings to the new Messenger app include group chat, high-res photo sharing, and read receipts, bringing SMS closer to other messaging apps like Facebook's WhatsApp, or Apple's iMessage.

Sprint is the first US carrier to launch RCS-based SMS with Google after the Android maker announced earlier this year that it intended to bring RCS to Android devices in partnership with 15 carriers and the GSM Association (GSMA).

Current Sprint subscribers with LG and Nexus phones will receive an automatic update, bringing RCS features to the Messenger app, while owners of other Android devices on Sprint can download the Messenger app. Beginning next year, all new Android devices sold by Sprint will be pre-loaded with new Messenger app.

The new focus on Messenger might help clear up confusion over Google's approach to SMS, with its various messaging apps. Hangouts still support SMS, but the app recently stopped displaying merged SMS and instant messages for a single contact. Google encourages Android users to install its Messenger app for the best SMS experience. Its new Allo messaging app meanwhile only partially supports SMS.

According to GSMA, there are currently 58 carriers and phone manufacturers that are working to support RCS, including América Móvil, Bharti Airtel, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Globe Telecom, KPN, Millicom, MTN, Orange, PLAY, Smart Communications, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, Telstra, TIM, Turkcell, VimpelCom, and Vodafone. Handset makers supporting the initiative include Samsung, LG, and ZTE.

The new Messenger app for Sprint subscribers is the first deployment of GSMA's so-called Universal RCS Profile. A new Universal Profile specification will be published on 17 November detailing new features including "capability discovery which will be interoperable between regions, chat, group chat, file transfer, audio messaging, video share, multi-device, enriched calling, location share and live sketching".

A second release to be published in before mid-2017 promises "improved expressiveness, APIs, plug-in integration and improved authentication and app security" as well as the foundations for adding commerce features.

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