Google’s RCS won’t fix Android communication & Telegram is probably the best bet —User opinion
This is written from an user’s point of view, without trying to include many technical details that I might understand but don’t want to mess up with. In the end, the solution should work for both: those that know the technical side and those who are “regular” users.
I have been an Android user since 2012, and to be honest I can’t remember a time in which I wasn’t frustrated with communication on Google’s mobile OS.
Today the story is not different, and instead of seeing a possibly clear solution, I am even more unsure that this time something coming from Google will work.
Let’s start by setting this up: the one thing I actually envy from iOS is called iMessages. You could criticize many things about it, but one thing we can all agree at is that it is a straightforward communication app that works between Apple devices without making any effort. It comes pre-installed and that alone allows people to chat seamlessly whether through WiFi/data or SMS. Recently, support for messages on iCloud was introduced, making it a truly cloud synced app, granted you live in the Apple world.
With Android we all know the situation is nothing like that. Most Android phones now come with Android Messages pre-installed, but most users with a new phone jump right ahead to install WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Skype, Telegram and even Duo (if not pre-installed) in order to chat with their family and friends. Android Messages currently only supports the old SMS protocol, so people outside the US don’t even bother.
Sure, iOS users do basically the same; for once because they need to communicate with their Android peers, and in the end those are apps that go beyond messaging. Yet, their preferred chat app is still iMessages. I am conscious that iMessages is mainly used in the US, while iPhone users around the world use WhatsApp to communicate, so this shouldn’t be a closed case of iMessages being the first choice for every single iOS user. But if you think about it, the main reason why iPhone users around the world don’t use iMessages (except the US and maybe some other countries) is because these are places in which not everyone can afford an iPhone or where people are more open to different choices than Apple; and so they are surrounded by many people who use Android phones. What’s left? Using WhatsApp just because everyone has it, along with the rest of the apps mentioned above.
Google is now trying to change that. It has been trying for too long, with Hangouts still being the biggest failure, and Allo being the most ridiculously executed idea they have ever had. Now it’s the turn for RCS, or ‘Chat’.
By this point, many of us know about how RCS is going to be implemented and how it should work. In case you don’t, here’s a really well-explained article by The Verge. Such article was published on April and so far we basically haven’t had a real and usable progress or sight of given technology, which brings the question of how long is it going to take for everyone to get access to it —not only in the US.
So here’s how I —an Android user who wants to have a great chatting experience with both iOS and Android users— can already see this failing.
For the first part, RCS implementation depends on carriers’ adoption and activation. Google is supposed to have control over the Android Messages app features, but whether or not users can access the core base of RCS depends on carriers around the world. This is a huge problem because carriers don’t really care about features but about making money, we all know that; and as for Android, the record from carriers regarding software updates has been anything but a big mess. So why would this be that different?
On the other side, RCS won’t be end-to-end encrypted or encrypted by any means. This is a huge deal that right now not many “regular” users pay attention to, but that given the recent Facebook events, for example, more and more users are being conscious about. Why not include it at least as an option?
Also, ‘Chat’ will rely on the Android Messages app, to which I had no complaints (except some speed issues) until a few days ago. It turns out I stopped using WhatsApp 4 months ago, and a friend had no internet access in order to use Telegram for some days, reason why we switched to the old SMS protocol. What happened was that I didn’t receive many of the SMS that I was supposed to be receiving, because of an issue with the Android Messages app (a quick Google search gave me such answer) and when I switched to Pulse, which is an SMS replacement app, everything worked. How can I expect reliability from an app that can’t do the basics right and now pretends to include a fully featured messaging experience that on top of all also depends on carriers?
If Google wants RCS to have at least a chance, it needs to figure out how to make this new protocol available for as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time; not to mention that the advertising campaigns must be stellar and security must be improved in no time.
But what is wrong with WhatsApp then?
- It is basically only available on a single device (in the case of Google’s Chat it would also be the same) with the option to use a “desktop app” or browser to mirror the messaging experience, and therefore relying on the phone’s connection in order to work.
- WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and I am [not] sorry, but I don’t trust Facebook at all. I remember when I used to use both services at the same time and how I got suggestions to add friends on Facebook given I had talked to a certain service through WhatsApp. No matter how end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp is, I can’t trust it when Facebook is behind it.
- There’s also the fact that WhatsApp, given its E2E encryption nature, saves everything you ever receive and send in your phone storage (if you forward something it even creates a duplicate file). This creates a complete mess.
- WhatsApp has a Status feature like Instagram, and honestly who wants it there? Even if I don’t look at those Stories, the sole fact that the tab is present on the home view is annoying enough.
- Finally, design-wise, WhatsApp is generic and hasn’t evolved in Android for the longest time; nowadays it looks like an app that doesn’t belong to our times, with doll colors and ugly shapes.
When I compare WhatsApp to Telegram, I can come up with other differences that make me dislike the Facebook-owned app even more, like the fact that Telegram gives me a lot of control over notifications, attachments, quality and even privacy that WhatsApp simply doesn’t. Which brings me to my next and final point…
Why I think Telegram is potentially the best option to fix communication on Android and beyond.
Currently, and for the longest time, Telegram has been available in basically every single platform, and given the app’s nature of cloud cross-platform syncing, it works seamlessly. Sure, you still need to register with a phone number, but you can later set a username so that people contact you. Cloud messages on Telegram are securely stored in servers around the world and so far there’s never been exposed messages (at least that I know of). Adding to that, Telegram lets you chat via E2E encrypted messages if you want to.
I could talk about every single feature Telegram offers, like the fact that for cloud synced chats it doesn’t actually download the files to your phone; you can clean the caché of your chats and still have it all available in the cloud; stickers and gifs work perfectly; voice messages are crystal clear; the app’s speed is marvelous and design wise it’s not the best but it’s not as bad as WhatsApp…
What’s most important though is that Telegram gets modern communication.
Telegram still needs to add a video chat feature and it could let Android users receive SMS through the app as a replacement for the stock one (without having to implement fallback, which appears to be an Apple patent feature). And still, I think there are three other things that Telegram needs to do if it wants to conquer the messaging space and repair our communications:
- Fix notifications and the app’s reliability: when I used the original Telegram app on Android, I sometimes had issues with notifications; which is not the case with Telegram X now that I use it. But iOS users I chat with have constant issues with notifications since they don’t receive any with Telegram X. This is a huge issue in a messaging app and one that needs to be fixed asap in Telegram’s base code.
- Marketing: Telegram’s existence is acknowledged by most people given it is a WhatsApp replacement for when the later fails. This shouldn’t be the reason why people recognize Telegram, and sadly it is a consequence of Telegram’s poor marketing efforts. If Telegram wants to succeed it needs to differentiate itself and promote the app’s strengths so that users who install it “in case WhatsApp fails” don’t do it for such reasons, and those who don’t know it do it for the features. Telegram has a gold mine if it targets solving cross-platform communication.
- Design: as I mentioned above, Telegram’s design is not ugly by any means, but it tends to be similar to WhatsApp’s in many areas like the messages bubbles. Now, there’s not an issue with resembling another app, the thing here is that WhatsApp uses doll colors and an overall boring design. I would much rather see Telegram’s chats look like Facebook Messenger’s ones or iMessage’s.
In the end, what could happen?
Google could succeed in the long term with RCS/Chat, but I don’t see it happening on the large scale.
Telegram could wake up and put their all in order to make a splash. But their recent silence has been discouraging unless they are planning something really big for the close future.
Apple could do a favor to everyone and release iMessages on Android, even if it charged a monthly subscription fee which I am sure many would gladly pay, including me.
And yet, in the meantime, we Android users are left with switching between every single app in which we have 5 different conversations and not knowing where to share one thing or the other. As for me? I have managed to switch some people over to Telegram and we’re happy, except I am the only one who uses it among my friends’ friends.
I came up with a simple redesign of Telegram’s website and Telegram X’s chat screen in order to showcase a bolder move towards modern design, using brighter colors and a more defined branding strategy that focuses on the features that make Telegram different and better.
Thank you for reading and please comment if you feel like it, or share or applaud or whatever. I am open to hear anything.