iMessage is one of those things that Apple users have long lorded over their Android counterparts. Various alternatives on Android have popped up but none have really had any staying power. That could change with RCS or Rich Communication Services, especially now that the four major US carriers are promoting their own RCS-based system. Android users might not have to wait for all those pieces to fall in place and can enable RCS on their phones, provided they are willing to jump through some hoops to do it.
RCS is being billed by its proponents, which is primarily Google, as a true SMS replacement (though still not encrypted) that gives it iMessage-like features such as typing and seen indicators, multimedia, and more. Google has tried getting carriers to support the new technology, as it needs to be supported on the network as well, with very little success.
It turns out, the four major US network operators have their own plans also based on RCS. They’re calling it Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative or CCMI that will go beyond carrier silos and devices. It’s all still on paper though, with none of them going into detail at the moment.
Android users won’t have to wait for the future to get a taste of RCS. The latest Android Messages version in beta already has the feature built-in but it has to be enabled through a series of actions, starting with installing a third-party Activity Launcher app. It’s not a trivial process but at least it doesn’t involve rooting the phone.
That said, even if you get RCS enabled, there’s no assurance it will work or will continue working indefinitely. Just like SMS, RCS is dependent on a variety of factors both on the phone side and the network side and any of those could break without notice.