What Apple’s support for RCS means for business messaging

What Apple’s support for RCS means for business messaging
November 17, 2023
Written by
Dave Esber

In a surprise announcement, Apple shared that it plans to offer support for the Rich Communication Services (RCS) Universal Protocol in 2024. While that means that Android and Apple users messaging one another will finally get closer to a more modern messaging experience than SMS (which just celebrated its 30th birthday last year), it likely has no immediate impact on the world of business messaging.

If you’ve ever texted with an Android user on an iOS device, you’ve likely noticed the green and blue bubbles, the inability to “react” to messages, lower-resolution images, lack of read receipts, and more. That’s because Android and iOS devices support different data-based messaging services. To navigate that lack of interoperability, the unsupported message type is delivered over SMS or MMS.  

This change means a greater level of interoperability between devices and will likely make texting friends a little more engaging. However, it’s not going to change the green and blue bubble dynamic, and it won't offer Android users the ability to send iMessages.

Why the differences between consumer and business messaging matter

So, what does this mean for business messaging? Nothing, just yet.

But, it does show promise for the future of rich messaging. While this announcement only impacts the person-to-person experience (P2P), businesses and consumers engage over application-to-person (A2P) channels. While it can seem like alphabet soup, RCS is the P2P messaging option supported on Android devices, and iMessage is the P2P protocol for iOS devices. Both Android and Apple also offer business messaging or A2P options – RCS Business Messaging (RBM) and Apple Messages for Business, respectively.

Much like the world of A2P SMS, these A2P and P2P versions of these channels represent different technologies with different requirements and feature support. Like other over-the-top (OTT) messaging channels, both Apple and Android support branded profiles, read receipts, and other rich messaging features, but they still don’t have the reach of channels like SMS, MMS, or even other OTT channels like WhatsApp (in part because they only serve a portion of the device market).

Even with this announcement and move toward P2P interoperability, the world of business messaging remains complex. And that’s before we take into account the unique preferences of consumers all around the world. The inconsistent feature functionality, opt-in requirements, use of phone numbers as identities on some and user IDs on others, and reliance on developers to incorporate these new technologies into applications, has made it hard for businesses to fully embrace a multichannel rich messaging experience across use cases. Doing so is developmentally challenging, and committing resources to a truly multichannel experience is a leap of faith.

Preparing for increased adoption of OTT channels

That’s not to say this isn’t a big deal – it is. The level of attention this announcement is getting is a recognition of the desire for richer messaging experiences. Since business messaging innovation tends to follow consumer messaging innovation, there’s huge potential for greater adoption of rich messaging in the A2P world. GSMA estimates we’ll see 6.3 billion mobile subscribers by 2030 – and since many of us are attached to our phones, that’s billions of opportunities for businesses and organizations to engage consumers wherever they are. As channels mature into entire digital ecosystems with ads, shopping, and more, businesses can create engaging, one-click experiences that don’t require consumers to switch apps. 

Consumers are excited about that future, too. Our Conversational Messaging Trend Report found 77% of consumers want to use conversational messaging to get help with selecting a product or service and 58% would use messaging channels to purchase a product or service if they had the option. The rapid innovation and adoption of AI and large-language models gives businesses even more ways to engage in personal ways, at global scale.  

That’s why partnering with the right customer engagement platform matters. To fully embrace the increased adoption of AI and rich communications, platforms need to offer multichannel APIs that give businesses confidence that their applications are future-proofed for new channels and functionality. They should also offer ways for both developers and technologists to build and manage templates across those channels without needing to build against the specific channel functionalities. And, that provider should also offer easy integrations and native support for tools that power self-service interactions, since rich messaging can result in as much as a 10x increase in engagement from consumers.

While Apple’s announcement may not have a direct impact on business messaging, it’s exciting to see what the future will hold for digital interactions as the world continues to embrace new channels, new AI technology, and prioritize investment in customer engagement to drive loyalty.