Apple Likely Adopting RCS Messaging Standard to Comply With Chinese Law

by Tim Hardwick

Apple’s surprise decision to bring RCS support to its Messages app for iPhone later this year was not a result of impending EU legislation, but an about-face caused by Chinese political pressure, claimed a report over the weekend.



In November 2023, Apple announced that it planned to bring RCS (Rich Communication Services) support to Messages alongside iMessage, a move that seemingly came out of the blue, given Apple’s staunch resistance to pressure from Google and Samsung to adopt the communication protocol.

In the weeks that followed, one popular theory for Apple’s reversal was that its hand had been forced by the EU’s Digital Markets Act, which would have required Apple to make changes to iMessage to make it interoperable with other platforms.

That theory has since been debunked for two reasons. First, the DMA does not specifically mention RCS as a requirement of interoperability between messaging platforms. And second, the EU earlier this month concluded that iMessage does not hold a dominant enough position to be brought under the DMA’s strict rules for services provided by big tech’s so-called digital “gatekeepers.”

A more plausible theory has since been offered by John Gruber, who says “little birdies” (Gruber’s code for sources at Apple) tell him that “iOS support for RCS is all about China.”

Writing on his blog Daring Fireball, Gruber points to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which in July 2023 solicited feedback for upcoming rules that would require new 5G devices to support RCS (an English translation of the law can be found on Reddit).

“I can’t say for certain,” admits Gruber, “but after spending the last few months periodically poking around the trees inhabited by little birdies, I do have good news for fans of coercive government regulation. Apple’s hand was effectively forced. But by China, not the EU.”

As Gruber notes, reports that Apple’s decision was influenced by inbound EU regulations subsequently make “zero sense.” Apple would prefer, says Gruber, “simply to continue ignoring RCS, on the grounds that they want to support neither any new non-E2EE protocols, nor any new carrier-controlled protocols (whether encrypted or not). But when the [Chinese Communist Party] says device makers must jump to sell their products in China, Apple asks ‘How high?'”

Gruber’s full piece is worth a read over on Daring Fireball. As for RCS coming to the Messages app, support for the protocol should result in several improvements to the default messaging experience between iPhones and Android devices, such as higher-resolution photos, audio messages, read receipts, improved group chats, and typing indicators.

Apple said RCS support in Messages would arrive “later” in 2024, which corresponds with the timeframe we expect iOS 18 to be released, suggesting it could be a feature of Apple’s next major software update.

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