Starting next year, it should be less frustrating for iPhone and Android users to text one another.
Apple says photos and videos sent between those devices will be of higher quality. Group messaging will be more reliable, and users will also be able to turn on read receipts and send their locations in texting threads.
The changes will come once Apple adds support for a technology called rich communication services, also known as RCS, next year, the company said. RCS is like the more modern cousin of short message service, or SMS.
Green message bubbles signal that they are coming from an Android or other non-iPhone user. But they have come to be associated with an unpleasant texting experience for iPhone users, whose messages are blue to indicate that they have been sent via iMessage. The green bubble is here to stay, however: It will signal when RCS is in use.
The technology “will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users,” Apple said in a statement.
Until now, Apple had shown no desire to make the changes.
When asked at last year’s Code Conference about the texting technology by an attendee who expressed difficulties with sending videos to the attendee’s mother, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, responded, “Buy your mom an iPhone.”
The about-face may have been set off by pressure from competitors, such as Google and Nothing, a mobile technology company, and the European Union’s Digital Markets Act.
“Apple is really the only major company that hasn’t, until now, adopted RCS standards,” said Caitlin Seeley George, the campaigns and managing director for Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital rights group. The group has pushed Apple to adopt the technology.
“We think it’s a good sign that Apple is making this shift and a sign that maybe they’re listening to the public on this one,” she said.
Ms. Seeley George said that enabling the texting technology would also allow users to see whether someone is typing and whether their messages were received.
Google adopted RCS years ago, and the company has tried to pressure Apple into doing so practically ever since.
Google started a campaign last year called Get the Message, which included a video mocking an Apple product release video and included a pager with features such as “outdated messaging tech,” “texting nightmares” and “broken group chats.”
“By not incorporating RCS, Apple is holding back the industry and holding back the user experience for not only Android users but also their own customers,” Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior vice president, wrote on social media last year.
In a statement, Google said it was “happy to see Apple take their first step today by coming on board to embrace RCS.”
“Everyone deserves to communicate with each other in ways that are modern and secure, no matter what phone they have,” the statement said.
Apple also faces budding competition from Nothing, the mobile tech company.
Nothing recently introduced Nothing Chats, an app that allows non-iPhone users to send iMessages as if they are using iPhones. The app, which is in beta mode, replaces the green bubbles with blue ones and allows for group chats, voice notes, high-resolution media sharing and more between those devices.
“If messaging services are dividing phone users, then we want to break those barriers down,” the company’s website reads.
Apple’s announcement also comes before Europe’s Digital Markets Act goes into effect in 2024, which could lead to greater scrutiny of its messaging system.
The law will apply to so-called gatekeeper platforms, including Apple, and is aimed at forcing those companies to loosen their grip on the market. Apple, for example, may have to allow alternatives to its App Store.
Ms. Seeley George called Apple’s announcement a “pretty big swing in a new direction.” But there was still important work to be done, she said, namely on end-to-end encryption.
Messages sent between iPhones are encrypted, but messages between iPhone and Android users cannot be encrypted without RCS, she said. Fight for the Future has also pushed Apple and other companies to embrace encryption.
“This is a big concern for a number of vulnerable communities that are often under surveillance or targeted by law enforcement,” Ms. Seeley George said, pointing to a teenager in Nebraska who was sentenced in July to 90 days in jail after the police obtained her Facebook messages about plans to end her pregnancy.