Earlier this year, Google announced that it was working on Chat , a new service intended to supplant SMS.
Anyone who has had experience with Google Duo, Google Allo, Google Buzz, Google Wave, or the many variants of Google Hangouts might wonder why this, of all Google’s chat services, will be the one that finally works.
But Chat isn’t exactly comparable to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or other chat apps. Instead, it comprises upgraded features that will exist inside the default messaging app on Android phones, such as Android Messages or Samsung Messages.
The Verge first reported details of Google’s Chat efforts in April, and how the company is adopting a standard called the ” Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services,” created by GSMA, the European mobile network trade body.
Rich Communication Services (RCS) has had some false starts, but is essentially a more interactive version of texting. It switches between sending messages via SMS where appropriate, or data.
It will also allow iMessage-style functionality like group chat, voice calls over data, image and video-sharing, and audio-message sharing. Think of it as the text message, but rebooted.
According to a new report from technology advisory firm Delta Partners, Google’s chances of making Chat work look surprisingly good. Here are four reasons why the company could succeed where it has previously failed.
1. Operators can’t agree on how to replace texting
In some ways, it seems strange something like RCS-based messaging isn’t already prevalent on Android. Operators aren’t making as much money as they used to through SMS, because everyone’s switched over to services like WhatsApp. And iMessage has been on the iPhone for years.
According to report co-author Mayssaa Issa, part of the trouble is RCS has different standards and, up until now, operators haven’t necessarily agreed to adopt the same one. They have needed a big partner like Google to chivvy them all along. “They see Google as a solution of development,” she said.
She added: “Chat already has the support of 55 major carriers, 11 [phone makers] and two [operating systems] — Microsoft and Google, which together have around 86% of the global smartphone OS market.”
As The Verge put it in April , Google has been pitching for consensus with the following thesis: “SMS is going to be replaced one way or another. You can either be part of the replacement or continue to watch Apple and Facebook run away with text messaging.”
2. There’s money to be made in marketing to people over text
Marketing via apps like Messenger or WhatsApp is currently pretty sporadic. WhatsApp has only just started offering businesses ways to reach customers , and Facebook is still trying to make the concept work on Messenger.
That leaves a big opportunity for whatever comes after SMS. There are more than 2 billion active Android devices, the majority of which are phones, so the potential audience is enormous.
According to Delta Partners, fewer people are sending SMS messages to other people, with usage expected to drop 9% by 2022. But SMS messages sent from businesses to people are on the rise, with 3% annual growth predicted between this year and 2022. According to the report: “[This] is unsurprising, given that businesses still rely on SMS as a tool to reach a wider audience.”
For operators looking to replace their cratering SMS revenues, adopting something like Chat and then charging businesses to send marketing messages to users could be a nice earner. For example, airlines could allow people to use Chat to check in and receive their boarding passes.
It isn’t clear at this point how Google might monetise Chat.
3. Chat won’t look like all of Google’s other failed chat apps
The point of Chat is that it’s been developed in collaboration with operators, according to Issa. This isn’t Google building a messaging app from scratch, then forcing manufacturers to install it.
Unlike Google’s many failed messaging apps, Chat is intended to be a set of technologies that will be adopted by the operators. It isn’t clear yet whether Apple will support Chat, however.
“I think it will work because of the rationale,” explained Issa. “Some [people] position this as competition to WhatsApp or Line, but I don’t see that as the case. I see it as an attempt to revamp SMS, an attempt to capture the business-to-consumer opportunity.”
4. Chat won’t be protected by encryption — and that might prove popular with governments
There’s another reason Chat could take off. Like SMS, Chat wouldn’t be protected by end-to-end encryption. That means it will be more likely to be approved by any goverment which doesn’t like the fact it can’t access messages on encryption-protected services like WhatsApp.
This isn’t Google’s fault, as the company told The Verge in April . RCS is a carrier-owned technology, and so the laws that allow operators to access message data still apply.
“Unlike some OTT apps currently in use, Chat will not support end-to-end encryption of messages because it is an evolution of SMS, which was never encrypted,” Delta Partners said.
“The lack of encryption, while jeopardizing users’ privacy and posing some security concerns, may be good news for governments who have worked relentlessly on having access to subscribers’ data and tried implementing different laws to gain greater control of it to help prevent terrorism.”
Lack of encryption is unlikely to get in the way of user adoption, Issa said, pointing to a case in 2014 in South Korea .
At the time, then-President Park Geun-Hye issued a crackdown on messaging apps, including the popular and unencrypted KaKao Talk. Prosecutors monitored private messages for anything rumour-mongering or insulting to the president — and South Korean users fled for encrypted apps in droves. But three years later, according to eMarketer , 85% of the country’s population uses the app, suggesting no long-term ill effects.
“It shows you people care about communications and using what other friends and family members are using,” said Issa.