RCS: What Apple’s WWDC 2024 announcement means for business messaging

Before we dive in here, let’s define RCS: RCS stands for Rich Communication Services. It’s a protocol that allows users to send messages with multimedia content and other advanced functions.

What Apple said about RCS at WWDC 2024

Apple had previously given a vague timeline for adding RCS to iOS. But on June 10th, they gave us a more concrete eta: it’s now official that iOS 18 will support RCS messaging! 

Couched between big announcements about Apple Intelligence, privacy concerns, and even a new calculator app, the company shared that iOS 18 will officially support RCS messaging.

The executive team didn’t elaborate on any other details, but this 1-second announcement was enough to send the messaging world chattering. 

But wait, hasn’t RCS been around for a while? 

RCS has been around for a while (since around 2007 actually), but there have been hurdles to its adoption for both person-to-person (P2P) interactions and for application-to-business (A2P) interactions.

The biggest hurdle for adoption of RCS from businesses thus far has been Apple’s iMessage support for RCS. Until November of 2023, Apple had shown no sign of closing the experience gap between Android and iMessage users. 

Until now, iPhone users and Android users have both come to know and enjoy rich messaging features, but have only been able to experience them with mobile operating systems of the same kind. iPhone users enjoy iMessage between iPhones, and Android users enjoy RCS between Androids. Today, standard SMS or MMS bridge the gap between iPhones and Androids, but as users become accustomed to the rich features of RCS and iMessage, they now know what they’re missing when they text with someone “on the other side” (blue bubbles vs. green bubbles). 

How does Apple’s announcement impact P2P messaging?

As part of Apple’s announced support of RCS, iOS will now support industry-accepted specifications for RCS and establish a universal, rich messaging experience across iOS and Android.os devices. This establishes a new bridge that connects iPhone users with Android users, upgrading SMS and MMS to a richer messaging experience with many of the features they know today.

Why consumers  are excited about Apple’s RCS announcement

Some of the rich messaging features that consumers are looking forward to sharing between Androids and iPhones are:

Sending photos, gifs, and videos

Marketers will love the multimedia capabilities of RCS because you won’t be limited to small file sizes— RCS allows for images up to 100MB. 

Handset read receipts

Right now, SMS gives handset delivery receipts in some instances. Now you can know whether recipients have actually opened your texts.

Typing indicators

RCS will let more spying strategic follow-up by seeing when prospects are responding 

How will Apple’s announcement impact A2P messaging?

As mentioned above, Apple will now support industry-accepted specifications for RCS as they move to support it in iMessage. These specifications are called the Universal Profile: a globally, industry-agreed set of features and specifications that allows RCS to work across devices and providers that comply with it. It’s set by the GSM Association.

For RCS to become ubiquitous across iPhones and Androids alike, aggregators, carriers, and of course, the devices themselves must all support the same Universal Profile.

Specifically, Apple has committed to supporting Universal Profile 2.4, which includes support for A2P (application-to-person) use cases. Bandwidth, and nearly the entire rest of the industry worldwide, are aligned in supporting RCS Business Messaging (RBM) as the de facto standard for delivering A2P messaging to RCS enabled handsets. Industry wide support of RBM is the key to whether businesses will be able to reach iOS devices with RBM messages

While Apple’s announcements haven’t fully stated whether they will or won’t provide RBM support, they have mentioned full support of Universal Profile 2.4. We are inferring this means they will support RBM because:

  • Firstly, the requirements documentation for Universal Profile 2.4 contains fairly firm terms dictating end users must have the ability to communicate with businesses through “chat bots” – a pseudonym for RCS A2P messaging – even specifying the kind of features users should expect from a business RCS message, including rich cards, video, and actions.
  • Secondly, Apple has said very little of its RCS plan but has never indicated that they expect to support anything less than the full Universal Profile 2.4.
  • Finally, Google’s quiet announcement that they are shutting down Google Business Chat hints that they, too, are expecting for Apple’s iOS support of RCS to extend to RBM. Google seems to be looking to RCS to bridge the P2P gap, and without Google Business Chat, they may very well expect it to bridge the A2P gap, too.

Both of these factors leave Bandwidth and many businesses hopeful that iOS 18 support of RCS will also include support for RBM, and therefore A2P business messaging.

Is your messaging strategy in ship shape?

Make sure you’re sending the smart way with the State of Business Texting podcast where we interview experts about industry trends, challenges, and predictions.

The question of carriers

As mentioned above, Apple has remained the biggest missing piece of the RCS and RBM adoption puzzle – until now. Should Apple support RBM as part of the release of iOS 18, the next puzzle piece that must fall into place to make RBM viable across devices is carrier support. Unlike advanced messaging or over-the-top applications, Google partnered with carriers to ensure RCS could be interoperable across networks and devices. RBM and the Universal Profile 2.4 are supported by numerous carriers globally, but are not yet supported by the three major US carriers today. 

While many messaging vendors like Bandwidth are working hard to ensure they are ready to support their brands with an RBM solution this year, the reach of an RBM solution within the US will remain limited to Android users until mobile operators can build a solution and support it accordingly. 

It’s worth noting that in regions where RBM is supported, RCS is seeing rapid adoption by businesses and consumers alike. India-based platforms like Gupshup.io saw RCS traffic skyrocket to 50 million messages a month, within just 6 months of their RCS messaging channel relaunch.

Why businesses are excited about Apple’s RCS announcement

In addition to the exciting features of RCS for consumers, it also offers valuable new features that businesses are keen to take advantage of, including:

Verified Sender and Branding

At the top of A2P messaging interactions, consumers will be able to see the verified name of the business they’re communicating with.

Rich Media

In addition to enabling photos and videos, which standard MMS can do today,  businesses will have new options to display media in carousels and dynamic cards that give consumers more options for engagement and interaction.

Higher trust and engagement

These enhanced engagements and the improved trust captured from verified branding mean that businesses are expecting a higher ROI from using RBM

How Bandwidth is involved with RCS 

Here at Bandwidth, we’ve been watching the developments closely. And as always, we’re working behind the scenes to ensure we’re powering extraordinary experiences for companies around the globe on the most relevant channels possible, this time, in time for RBM’s big debut into the world of business messaging in line with Apple’s iOS 18 release.