The next time you receive a text on an Android device stating that your prescription is ready, you may notice a familiar calligraphic “W” in the icon bubble of the sender.
Google has announced a new platform to provide businesses an upgraded alternative to traditional SMS texting, allowing them to brand text messages, alerts and other communications, in addition to giving them access to features not available through SMS, such as group texting, high-resolution photos, and read receipts. (Similar to Apple’s built-in iMessage, or apps like Line and Facebook Messenger, which also have specific features for businesses.)
Gamestop, Time Inc., Virgin Trains and Walgreens — hence the “W” some users may see — are among businesses participating in the initial rollout.
The messages rely on RCS, or Rich Communications Services, a messaging technology that has a wider array of features than the SMS system that has been standard on mobile since the days of the flip-phone. RCS is SMS-compatible, so recipients without RCS receive simple text messages without the bells and whistles.
This flexibility is “very powerful for the brand because a lot of these brands are not interested in a solution that only addresses part of their user base,” as would options that only work if the user has downloaded a specific messaging app, Google’s RCS product manager Amir Sarhangi told Recode.
The option for businesses is part of the Google’s continued effort to expand carrier and phone manufacturers’ use of RCS. Google has been striking deals over the last year with carriers and manufacturers to get them to preload Android Messages, Google’s RCS messaging app, onto phones.
Google is announcing that carriers Deutsche Telekom, Globe, Orange and Vodafone will also preload Android Messages onto devices. With the exception of Globe, which serves subscribers in the Philippines, the carriers mostly cover Europe.
The company previously announced deals with carriers Sprint, Rogers and Telenor, with subscribers in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Together, all of the carriers have more than one billion subscribers that may now be exposed to the Android Messages app.
Expansion of Android Messages means greater standardization of Android. The mobile platform can appear very different on different phones because it relies on an ecosystem of partners the preload varying apps.
Google has also announced Android Messages will be preloaded on additional manufacturers’ phones. Previously, it was preloaded on phones including Pixel, Android One and Nexus devices.