RCS on iPhone Rolls Out Nearly Globally in iOS 18 Beta 3 | Here’s How It Works

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With yesterday’s release of the third iOS 18 developer beta, it appears that support for Rich Communication Services (RCS) on the iPhone has now rolled to many more supported carriers around the globe.

The change comes just in time for the public beta, which will likely arrive later this week or early next, and means that many more early adopters will be able to try out the RCS features soon.

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As the word “Rich” in the acronym suggests, RCS promises a much more iMessage-like experience when communicating with Android users. Technically, the RCS standard isn’t even that new — it’s been around for as long as the iPhone has been around, and it predates iMessage by about five years.

RCS was supposed to become the official replacement for SMS years ago, but the inertia of getting carriers and device manufacturers to adopt it meant it almost died on the table. It wasn’t until Google picked up the ball and ran with it in 2015 that RCS began to gain traction. After a few false starts, while the big US carriers tried to get back into the game with their own flavor of RCS, Google’s Jibe platform finally became the defacto RCS infrastructure.

However, Apple staunchly held out on RCS for years, preferring to keep users in its cozy world of iMessage. However, increasing regulatory pressure forced it to finally throw in the towel last fall, announcing that RCS would indeed be coming to the iPhone in 2024.

That was presumably going to be part of iOS 18, so it’s not a huge surprise that RCS is here, but it’s a pleasant one to see that it’s ready to go this early in the beta cycle. Many feared that it wouldn’t show up until the final release of iOS 18 in September or that it might have been held off until iOS 18.1 later in the fall.

It’s an exciting enough development that many folks are jumping into the developer betas for this feature alone, especially those who regularly communicate with Android users. However, we still recommend you avoid running developer betas on your primary device, but with a public beta likely just around the corner, you won’t have to wait much longer.

Apple has been relatively quiet about RCS, as it’s undoubtedly adopting it somewhat grudgingly, but so far, it’s working quite well in the third beta — as long as you’re on a supported carrier.

However, that highlights the most significant difference between RCS and iMessage. Despite Google’s involvement, RCS is still a carrier-based service. Remember, this is the evolution of SMS, so it still works through the carriers. That also means there’s no direct RCS support on the iPad or Mac, although, like SMS, you should still be able to relay RCS messages through your iPhone.

The difference is that most carriers are deferring to Google on this one, and Apple appears to be doing the same. Or, at least, Apple is deferring to the carriers, who are, in turn, deferring to Google. The RCS entries we’ve found in the carrier bundles so far all point to Google’s Jibe servers, so communicating via RCS from Apple’s Messages app will send those messages that way.

Sadly, this doesn’t mean Apple’s RCS implementation will support all of Google’s features. Apple has only committed to supporting the baseline RCS universal standard, which excludes end-to-end encryption. That’s a proprietary addition on Google’s part, and while there’s work underway to roll that into the RCS spec, we’re not there yet.

How to Use RCS on Your iPhone

This means that messages sent via RCS from an iPhone will not be end-to-end encrypted at this point. However, you’ll still get all the other benefits of RCS, including read receipts, typing indicators, tapbacks, and the ability to send high-quality photos and videos.

What you won’t get are blue bubbles. For now, Apple is determined to treat RCS like it treats SMS. Messages will be exchanged using the same green bubbles, with the only visual indicator that you’re using RCS being a small header when the conversation switches to RCS and watermarked text in the message field that will show either “SMS” or “RCS” beside the standard “Text Message” indicator.

Despite this, everything else with RCS works fine and should work transparently as long as RCS is enabled. Whether RCS is on by default on your iPhone is up to your carrier — there’s an EnableRCSByDefault setting in the individual carrier profiles — but from what we’ve seen, it appears to be enabled for most carriers.

If you’re running the latest iOS 18 beta, here’s how to check if your iPhone has RCS support and confirm it’s enabled:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll to the very bottom and select Apps (in iOS 18, all app settings, including those for Apple’s first-party apps like Messages, have been moved to a subsection).
  3. Locate Messages by scrolling down or searching for it using the search bar, and select it.
  4. Scroll down to the “Text Messaging” section. RCS Messaging should appear here above MMS Messaging. If you don’t see it, that means your carrier hasn’t (yet) added RCS support.
  5. Select RCS Messaging.
  6. Ensure the RCS Messaging toggled is enabled on the next screen.

To send an RCS message, start a conversation like you normally would by choosing a contact or typing their phone number. You can also continue an existing conversation thread. Unlike choosing contacts for iMessages versus SMS, you won’t be able to tell whether a contact or number supports RCS from the color — RCS-capable recipients will still be in green — but as soon as you tap the name, the text entry box should switch to “Text Message – RCS” if the recipient’s smartphone supports RCS.

At that point, you can start typing and send the message. You’ll get read receipts if the recipient has them enabled, see typing indicators while they’re tapping out their replies, and even be able to exchange tapbacks.

I’ve been testing this today on Bell Mobility in Canada using an iPhone 14 Pro Max and a Google Pixel 6, and it’s working quite well. However, RCS also didn’t begin working for me until this morning, so there may be some carrier registrations required to authorize new iPhones to communicate with the RCS servers; of course, this is also still a relatively early beta, so your mileage will vary. We’ve already seen reports of folks who had RCS working one day and found themselves falling back to SMS the next, so while it’s fun to play with, it’s best to be patient and not expect too much until we get to the final release in September.

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