Apple moves to simplify messaging between iPhones and Androids

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Apple said on Thursday it will roll out a software update next year that will improve messaging between iPhones and Android phones, as the smartphone maker faces pressure to make its system more compatible with rivals.

The company said the update will allow for improved interoperability with Android, such as the sharing of higher-resolution images, as well as better group messaging and location sharing.

The move comes as the tech giant faces potential EU rules that would force its iMessage to work seamlessly with other messaging services.

It will not, however, make iMessage available on non-Apple devices. “This will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users,” the company said.

It is a reversal for Apple, which has previously held back on adopting the Rich Communication Services standard, an industry format that supports functions such as group chats and message delivery status. Smartphone rivals Samsung and Google have urged Apple to adopt the standard in recent months. 

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Critics say the different experience for iMessage users when they receive texts from non-iOS devices — epitomised by the “green bubble” that distinguishes Android messages from those sent via iMessage — helps keep those users locked into the company’s iOS ecosystem.

The move comes as big tech companies are facing a March 2024 deadline to come into compliance with the European Commission’s new Digital Markets Act, which could require Apple to open iMessage up to rivals such as WhatsApp.

“Later next year, we will be adding support for RCS Universal Profile, the standard as currently published by the GSM Association,” Apple said in a statement on Thursday.

According to the GSMA, a non-profit organisation representing mobile network operators around the world, the Universal Profile standard commits operators to implementing numerous improved messaging features not currently available between iMessage and Android.

Apple said it believed the adoption of the profile would allow for a “better interoperability experience”. It added that it is working with the GSMA to include stronger encryption under the new RCS standard.

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