Google Celebrates 1 Billion RCS Users With a Feature Drop for Green Bubbles

A photo of the new RCS features in Google Messages

Google’s new RCS features include animated emojis, plus a helping of other features.
Image: Google

Google’s bet on RCS is paying off, or at least that’s what it wants us to think. After a few minor wins, including Apple quietly confirming RCS support in the next iPhone and officially surpassing 1 billion monthly active users, Google is celebrating its successes by announcing new features for Messages users on Android.

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I do want an official count on how many of those billion users felt forced onto the standard because it was the platform’s only option for iMessage-style features. At least RCS is better than SMS in myriad ways: there’s no character limit, it’s encrypted, and it lets you use emoji reactions for messages, just like iPhone users have been able to do all this time. It won’t offer the same benefits when you’re messaging with an iPhone user, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles in this competitive dual-platform society.

Here’s the lowdown on the fun features coming to Google Messages for Android: Photomoji lets you make emoji reactions for messages from a picture on your phone. I worry about the shenanigans that could come from this kind of feature. Google does not mention how the Photomoji displays between RCS users and iOS. Voice moods, announced as a part of a more significant rollout that includes updates to Wear OS, add art to your voice message to give the person on the other end a heads up on the vibe before they tune in.

The bitrate and sampling rate of voice messages have also improved between RCS users, so angry rants will be loud and clear. Since RCS is about rich communication, Google added Screen Effects, which feature “vibrant animations” when you type oft-used words like “I love you.” Google says there are about 15 Screen Effects prompt words to unlock.

Some of the additional features are plucked from other platforms. Animated emojis, for instance, exist on social media and elsewhere, and Profiles sounds like the equivalent of swapping iOS’s verified Contact Cards. Speaking of the iPhone, Custom Bubbles lets you change the color and background of your conversations. The idea is that there’s no longer a blue versus green bubble battle. But it’s unclear if iPhone users will see this color change, so it won’t do much to fix the green bubble debate.

Sure, this feels like a game of catchup to other messaging apps, but Android users need the win. Perhaps Google also wanted to extend the party after Apple’s reluctant acquiescence. It’s more fun to make this seem like a Soap Opera drama instead of one company maintaining its dominance through a proprietary standard.

The new Google Messages features will eventually roll out to all RCS users but have started rolling out to beta users first. You’ll need to sign up to get in on the action before everyone else.