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Monday, February 22, 2016

Google + GSMA announcement on RCS is no gamechanger

As widely hinted in recent months, GSMA has tried to re-animate the RCS corpse once more, this time with Google playing the role of Dr Frankenstein.

My initial take: Its announcement this morning (link) is a bit of a damp squib. It basically says that Google will provide a standardised RCS client and "profile" for Android:

"Operators have agreed to transition toward a common, universal profile based on the GSMA’s RCS specifications and an Android RCS client provided by Google"


It's belatedly throwing various independent RCS app providers under the bus, trying to make disparate RCS implementations actually work together. As with VoLTE, RCS has suffered a wide range of non-interoperable versions to date, which is rather embarrassing for an application that was mainly standardised for the purpose of interoperability, rather than user-utility. 

That it's failed to actually be interoperable, as well as failed to be useful & well-designed, is just another eaten brain in the 8-year zombie catastrophe of RCS.

What's interesting is what's not in the statement:


- No mention of messaging-as-a-platform, despite that being hinted at previously in RCS presentations I've seen. Given that WeChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and others are shifting to commerce/advertising "streams", that's a surprising omission.
- No current usage numbers for RCS. There's vague pronouncements about "towards a billion users", but no baseline of current DAUs/MAUs for "proper" RCS usage, not just SMS-replacement texting.
- It doesn't mention the new RCS client being made mandatory in future Android builds. It just says it's available. The PR is very operator-centric, which doesn't seem to suggest that all OEMs will automatically implement it in new devices, especially where they're sold through open-market channels.
- No reference to whether the client will be appearing on WiFi-only tablets, or other Android devices (cars, watches, Chromebooks etc)
- No mention of AT&T or Verizon in the press release, although there's an AT&T speaker at MWC on stage with them apparently (link)
- No clear timelines or wholehearted commitment by Google "an important step forward in bringing a better messaging experience for Android users everywhere"
- No mention of Samsung, which also happened to have Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook keynoting its big press conference yesterday. Given Google is trying to wrest back control of Android from its OEMs' influence, that's not a good sign for Samsung+RCS
- No reference to the South Korean operators ditching Joyn recently. (link)

It's also still unclear exactly what the future RCS business/revenue model might look like. Although it references the Jibe platform for MNOs, it doesn't rule out my previous hypothesis of "Android iMessage" either. (link)

Notably, the seminar at MWC is entitled "the path to one billion users" (link). The fact that there's about 1.8bn Android devices already out there, plus 900m iOS devices, with both still growing, tellls you that there isn't even the ambition for "ubiquity" any more.

Google is just going through the motions. And if it was honest with itself, GSMA would admit that it's also looking for a graceful exit too.

 

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