Technology

Google is making Messages even more like iMessage, but still won’t get you that blue bubble

Messaging is everything these days, but you don’t have to take our word for it. After years of sputtering out on failure after failure, Google is finally attempting to master messaging through RCS. Today, it’s announcing an all-new slate of features coming to Google Messages over the next few weeks, all designed to improve your conversations and group chats between Android devices and, in some cases, even between Android and iOS.

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No, Google’s not announcing some sort of partnership with Apple – though it continues to push its Get the Message social campaign to pressure the company behind iMessage. Instead, Google is officially adding emoji reactions to SMS and MMS messages, just under a year after adding tapback responses to RCS chats.

It’ll help create some consistency between conversations, though it’s far from a flawless experience. While Android users chatting within an MMS-based group chat will see these reactions, iOS users will get a basic “[emoji] to [message]”text instead. The same goes for one-on-one communication between the two platforms. Google stresses this lack of cross-platform support as yet another reason it wants Apple to add RCS support to iMessage, though it sure sounds like that’s not happening any time soon.

It’s far from the only change being made today, though. Google is continuing to develop and expand on some of the features it announced back in the spring. Messages is adding threaded replies to RCS, so you can always answer a specific message without interrupting the group chat. Starred suggestions build on the starred messages feature added last year, now automatically suggesting stars for addresses, door codes, phone numbers, and other useful information you’ll want to keep handy. Likewise, reminders are also available in Messages now, so you can save appointments or birthdays to your phone with ease.

Google added support for YouTube previews in Messages earlier this year, but apparently, it’s not enough. The company says videos are the single most popular link shared between chatters in Messages, and now, it’s adding the option to watch a video right inside the app. You can keep chatting while the video plays on your display, though you’ll have to sit through ads, even if you have Premium. Google says the ability to add a Premium-based account might come next year, but right now, those users might be better off using the built-in PiP mode.

That’s not all. Google is partnering with United Airlines to make Messages a featured messaging app on its flights. That means you can chat with RCS over in-flight Wi-Fi without paying a cent. iMessage, WhatsApp, and other services have long offered this sort of ability, and it’s great to see Google following suit. The company says it’s hoping to add additional airlines soon. A new business chat feature is now in testing, allowing you to load into a conversation from Search or Maps through Messages.

Finally, Voice Message Transcriptions are coming to the entire Pixel 6 series, the Galaxy S22, and the Galaxy Z Fold 4, just days after it launched with the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.

It’s a lot of small changes coming to Messages, but it should help make it a better experience for anyone who relies on RCS for the bulk of their conversations. Google is also timing a new visual relaunch for its Messages, Phone, and Contacts icons with today’s announcement, giving all three apps a makeover. Although they’re all compatible with Material You, it’s hard to ignore the obvious: with this change, Google Messages is finally getting support for blue bubbles. It’s just limited to the icon.

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