Traditional SMS is somewhat restrictive, with its 160-character limit and text-only content capabilities. However, thanks to technological advances in texting, smartphone users can now take advantage of a richer, more enhanced messaging experience within their default messaging app.

How? Through either Rich Communication Services (RCS) or iMessage – which are types of rich messaging solutions for Android and iOS devices. This article compares the differences between RCS vs iMessage and explores the future of these messaging technologies.

What is ‘Rich Communication Services’ (RCS)?

RCS is a text messaging protocol developed by Google for Android phones. It's not a texting app but rather an upgraded messaging experience or industry-wide standard that you can 'activate' within the native Google Messages app. RCS allows you to share media files within message content, see real-time typing indicators and send texts using WiFi or mobile data instead of a cellular connection.

What is iMessage?

Similarly, iMessage is an instant messaging service created and owned by Apple. Again, it's not an app but a flexible messaging experience available in the iOS Messages app. iMessages can only be sent to other Apple device users – texts appear in a blue bubble (and you can also send images and videos).

How different are RCS and iMessage?

Let's explore the key differences between RCS and iMessage regarding when these technologies were launched, their respective features, security qualities and device compatibility.

1. Development and launch

Both iMessage and RCS were under development around the same time – the late 2000s to early 2010s. iMessage was launched publicly in 2011, so it's been around a long time. In contrast, RCS was adopted for widespread use much later than iMessage, around 2019, when Google launched it as part of its upgraded Messages app.

2. RCS and iMessage features

RCS and iMessage support rich content and, therefore, enhance the SMS messaging experience. Both also transmit messages over an internet connection, with no cell network required. Other features that RCS and iMessage have in common include:

  • The option to send longer text-based content (as they don't have the stringent character limits applicable to SMS.

  • Supporting high-quality images, GIFs and videos (similar to what you'd expect with MMS).

  • Real-time typing indicators so you can see when someone is sending you a message.

  • Read receipts.

  • Message 'tapback' reactions.

  • Traditional SMS or MMS fallback options in case you're in an area with no internet or are an Apple user sending a message to an Android device. (You can tell if you've sent or received an SMS from iMessage as the message content appears in a green bubble. And in the Google Messages app, the 'send' icon in the message compose bar displays how your message will be sent, e.g. SMS or WiFi.)

  • Group texting (although there's a relatively low limit to the number of people you can have in a group).

  • Document sharing.

  • The ability to send a text from your PC.

While these features are brilliant compared to what's available with traditional SMS messages, neither RCS nor iMessage is suitable as a mass texting service for businesses.

Bonus features in iMessage

iMessage offers a few different features to RCS. One is that you can now unsend and edit iMessage-to-iMessage texts – perfect if you're prone to typos. However, there are some caveats to the feature, such as the recipient can see that a message has been unsent or edited.

Another nifty feature is that iMessage displays onscreen special effects based on specific triggers or keywords. For example, a message containing the words 'Happy New Year' will be accompanied by a visual burst of fireworks! iMessage also allows users to create their own avatars (known as Memojis) – and supports custom bubble effects.

Text message conversation with blue speech bubbles

3. Security

RCS and iMessage offer robust spam filters and verified profiles for businesses so recipients can see whether the messages they receive are from trusted and genuine senders. Both also use end-to-end encryption when transmitting messages – meaning no one, not even Google or Apple, can read the contents of eligible messages as they travel between devices.

That said, Google introduced end-to-end encryption much later for RCS than Apple did for iMessage. (It’s worth noting that while Google supports this secure message protocol, other RCS messaging apps might not.)

4. Platform or device type

RCS only works on Android phones and devices. Both senders and recipients must have RCS chats enabled within their Messages app settings.

Likewise, iMessage only works on Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods, Macs and Apple Watches) that run certain versions of iOS, iPadOS, or macOS. For iMessages to be transmitted, the sender and recipient must use compatible Apple devices and operating systems.

Is RCS better than iMessage?

We've summarised the key differences and similarities between these two rich messaging platforms below to help you decide whether one is better than the other.




Development and launch

Although RCS technology has been around for over a decade, it was only officially launched in 2019.

iMessage has been available for iOS users since 2011, making it the more established and recognised option.

Text message length

No strict character count for text messages.

No strict character count for text messages.

Media support

Can send images, GIFs, videos and documents.

Can send images, GIFs, videos and documents.

Typing tools and features

Supports real-time typing indicators, read receipts and ‘tapback’ reactions.

Supports real-time typing indicators, read receipts and ‘tapback’ reactions.

SMS fallback

Also supports regular SMS or MMS messages sent over a cell network.

Also supports regular SMS or MMS messages sent over a cell network.

Group texting

Can add up to 100 recipients in an RCS group chat.

Can add up to 32 people in an iMessage group chat (including yourself).


Supports end-to-end encryption.

Supports end-to-end encryption.

Device compatibility

Only works on Android devices if the sender and recipient have RCS chats enabled.

iMessage only works on Apple devices that run on supported operating software. Both the sender and recipient need to be using compatible Apple devices.

What the future looks like for rich messaging

Google wants RCS to be the global text messaging standard, which means Apple would need to adopt RCS for iMessage. However, it doesn't look like this will happen anytime soon, despite Google publicly bashing Apple for its lack of support so far.

Why is Apple against RCS?

iMessage is one of Apple's most successful proprietary products that keeps users 'locked in' to the Apple ecosystem and stops them from jumping ship to Android. In fact, the blue and green bubble conflict is one of the reasons why some Android users switch to iOS – if their friends and family all have iPhones, iMessage-to-iMessage chats provide a much easier and better messaging experience. As mentioned earlier, iMessage is available on every Apple device (with the compatible OS) – there's nothing extra to download or an onboarding process to go through. Read more on the Google vs Apple RCS feud.

In the meantime, Apple users can fall back on SMS messages or any other OTT messaging app if they really want the uniformity that a singular messaging solution would give.

Multiple Apple iOS devices

Why RCS and iMessage can't replace SMS

RCS and iMessage are both rich messaging platforms. If you have a recent Android phone model, you can access RCS, while iPhone users can benefit from iMessage. Both these messaging protocols allow you to send flexible, mixed-media messages and use smart tools like typing indicators and read receipts.

While RCS and iMessage enhance text messaging, neither can replace traditional SMS. Both protocols rely on it as a fallback option when there's no internet connection. That's just one advantage of SMS – here are some others:

  • SMS is the universal texting channel for all phone users – accessible to everyone with a phone.

  • Sometimes, it makes sense to send short messages without rich content – take 2FA PIN codes, for instance, or emergency alerts.

  • It's a native messaging app built into all phones - no download required.

  • If you use an SMS provider, you can send texts to hundreds or thousands of recipients simultaneously (you can't do this with RCS messages or iMessage).

The above benefits are why many businesses use SMS for specific promotional, transactional and conversational messages. Interested in seeing how SMS could work for your business? Book a call with our experts to find out.