Sunday, October 08, 2023

RCS messaging: still a zombie, but now wearing a suit

This post originally appeared on October 4 on my LinkedIn feed, which is now my main platform for both short posts and longer-form articles. It can be found here, along with the comment stream. Please follow / connect to me on LinkedIn, to receive regular updates (about 1-3 / week)

Yesterday I followed the Mobile Ecosystem Forum stream of its #RCSWorld conference, on #RCS #messaging, especially business messages. I thought it was time to get an update.
As regular followers know, I’m a long-time critic of RCS. I saw it announced in 2008, wrote reports & advised telco clients about its many problems in 2010-2013, called it a zombie tech in 2015 (“28 quarters later”) and have been sniping at it ever since, including at Google’s acquisition of Jibe and its attempt to turn it into Android’s equivalent of Apple #iMessage.
Some flaws have been addressed (it finally uses E2E encryption), while Google’s tightening control of its features has maybe fixed its “design by committee” paralysis and historic fragmentation. Google is now hosting the whole application for many MNOs, rather than telcos relying on (and paying for) in-network IMS integration, but with an implicit threat of end-running them if they don’t support the services to customers.

There's about 1.2bn phones with RCS active - mostly Google #Android but also about 200m in China. This has been driven by its adoption as the default messaging client on new phones, rather than by consumer download.

I didn't hear any stats on genuine active use - ie beyond just using it as a pseudo-#SMS/MMS app because it's the default. Numbers always seem to be monthly MAUs rather than meaningful DAUs. No anecdotes of teenagers who swapped from FB / WA / iMessage / WeChat / TikTok / whatever because RCS is cooler with better emojis, birthday greeting fireworks or cat-ear image filters.
To be fair, the conference name was misleading. Almost the entire event was about RCS Business Messaging (RBM) rather than personal or group messaging. It was about targeted marketing campaigns (that’s spam to most of us), customer interaction with so-called “brands”, multichannel whatnot, and blather about engagement and “digital” marketing

Apparently A2P revenues for SMS are flattening, but the addition of "rich" interactive in-messaging customer experience functions will reignite growth. One operator in the audience asked why the same forecasts have been shown (and not come true) for the past 4-5 years. Apparently it's too complex for most developers.

So the big innovation is "basic RCS" with 160 characters. SMS with a brand logo, a verification tick and read receipts. It's aiming at the #cPaaS market to get more devs/marketers onto the first rung & hope to catalyse more fancy use-cases later.
IMO this is why Apple isn’t going to support it anytime soon, despite Google's cringey social media exhortations. The notion RCS is a standard for P2P messaging is a smokescreen. It’s an ad & CRM platform, not an SMS replacement or default way to chat with friends. It’s not going to be the messaging equivalent of USB-C chargers & forced on Apple by the European Commission
In a nutshell, it’s still a zombie. But now it’s a zombie in a suit spamming you with ads and "engagement" while it eats your brain



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