Google has decided to match Apple’s energy with its Messages app. The app is getting a series of updates that’ll bring its texting function to better parity with Apple’s iMessage and Meta’s WhatsApp. But one feature, designed to make emoji message reactions more consistent, might be initially annoying for anyone using a non-Android phone or a third-party SMS texting app on Android.
According to a blog post on Thursday, the Messages app will now allow you to reply to any text with an emoji. But when a conversation isn’t conducted over RCS — the texting standard Google uses to provide enhanced features in its Messages app — it will do that by sending an SMS text that denotes the emoji used while quoting the message the reaction is meant for. This is similar to how the iPhone handles emoji reactions on text messages between iPhone and Android users.
Google earlier this year added a feature that translates those texts from an iPhone into the appropriate emoji reaction for Android devices.
Google’s Jan Jedrzejowicz, who serves as product lead on Messages, said at a reporter roundtable that the feature is meant to add consistency to the Messages app rather than blocking the reaction feature from non-RCS conversations entirely. Regarding how the texts could initially appear in Apple’s iMessage, Jedrzejowicz said it will be up to Apple to decide whether or not to parse those texts into the appropriate emoji reaction.
Upcoming Messages updates will also bring inline replies to the app, the ability to watch YouTube videos inside of a conversation and proactive suggestions based on texts within a conversation. These suggestions could include setting a reminder if a birthday is mentioned, a suggestion to “star” a message should it include an important detail (like an unlock code for a door) or setting up a Google Meet call if the conversation mentions needing to set up a meeting. These suggestions can be turned off should they feel too intrusive.
Google is also expanding availability for the voice message transcription feature introduced on the Pixel 7. That feature will come to the Pixel 6 line as well as Samsung’s Galaxy S22, Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4.
The Google Messages app will get a new set of icons, which will feature overlapping blue shapes for Messages, Phone and Contacts.
Google will partner with United Airlines to bring free RCS texting to flights over in-flight Wi-Fi. This is similar to other airline offerings, which include free texting over services such as iMessage and WhatsApp.
While several of these features are already common in rival texting apps, they’re particularly relevant as Google continues to push Apple to consider adopting the RCS texting standard. RCS is being pitched as a replacement to SMS and MMS since it’s able to support features that the older standards can’t, including typing indicators, higher-quality photos and message encryption. RCS is largely led by Google, however, and the standard generally isn’t available outside of the company’s Messages app on Android.