Google Tweaks Android RCS APIs, But Intent Somewhat Fuzzy

Google has added some code to Android that suggests support for RCS may be expanded, though to what extent no one truly knows. For now, it’s clear that phone makers will gain access to a new API and, by extension, improved RCS compatibility. Third-party app writers, however, may be out of luck.

RCS is, of course, Google’s feature-rich messaging service. It supports advanced features, such as read receipts, native video messaging, and the sharing of large files. (Think iMessage, but for Android.) Google has been pushing carriers and phone makers around the globe to support RCS for several years, but uptake has been slow. 

Earlier this year, Google dropped some RCS features directly into Android. It later hid those features. Now, a Redditor spotted a new code drop to AOSP that strongly suggests official RCS API support is on the way. 

The fresh API primarily lets phones talk to one another in a way to assess the other’s RCS capabilities. This means one device with RCS on board will know when another supports RCS, thereby allowing it to interact with the device’s RCS-based features. Some of these features could include availability, social avatars, and such. In other words, the bare bones handshake required is now in place within Android itself thanks to this new API. This is called User Capability Exchange (UCE). 

In the long run, companies such as Huawei and Samsung will better be able to build native support for RCS into their devices, no matter what the carriers do. 

The commit spotted by the Redditor says, “This CL only defines the API changes needed for this, not the telephony implementation to unblock vendor implementation and testing.” This is the part that impacts third-party app makers. 

As spotted by 9to5Google, there are more than thirty uses of the “@hide” comment in the API. This is what pulls the blanket over the code so third-party developers cannot see it.

Bottom line, the API is likely to be kept private for the initial release of Android Q. It’s possible the API will be made public in a later release of Android Q or (hopefully not) Android R. Either way, independent app writers will have to wait a bit longer for easy access to RCS APIs. 

Be sure to read the next Messaging article: Twilio Announces Conversations API for Multi-Channel Messaging