Why is texting on Android so bad?

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Android has a major problem. Sending text messages, photos and videos between phones is an unreliable and unencrypted mess. To make matters worse, iPhone users will intimidate you because of the color of your texts, let alone anything else. So why is texting on Android stuck in the past?

Several factors are behind the horrible messaging system that Android users are stuck with. To find out why, you need to look at the history of messaging, how technology has advanced, and the political dynamics between the companies that control the market. There are other options we could switch to, and some of those options would be nice if a major fruit-shaped barrier wasn’t blocking progress. So let’s dig into why messaging on Android is so bad that its users are better off sticking with Whatsapp.

What’s wrong with texting on Android?

A messaging app showing an SMS symbol
Images by Tada / Shutterstock.com

If you are an Android user or have ever sent messages to an Android user, you have probably noticed some of the flaws in the messaging system you use. There’s no encryption, Wi-Fi messaging isn’t an option all the time without third-party apps like WhatsApp or Telegram, and group chats work, but they don’t work well. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Sending any form of media is where Android’s messaging system shows its weakness. Did you just take a cute video of your dog? It’s best sent via Facebook Messenger because if you text it, the recipient will most likely receive a five-second silent clip of some vaguely animal-shaped pixels. In some cases, the images can be a little more forgiving, but they’re still bad. A single image sent via text message will be viewable on the phone, but with limits as low as 1 MB when texting images on some networks, it probably won’t look good anywhere else. It is possible to send multiple photos, but that small data limit will be split between them and the results will not be viewable. Network limitations aren’t the only problem; it is the system that Android uses to send messages that causes most of the problems.

There is one scenario where neither of these issues occurs, and that is when two Androids are sending messages to each other with RCS enabled. At that point, you’re basically using the Android equivalent of iMessage. But RCS isn’t always enabled, and chances are you’re not always sending messages to another Android.

Android uses an archaic system

Phones send text messages through the Short Message Service (SMS) system and media messages through the Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). Both systems began development in the 1980s, with the first SMS message being sent in 1992. They were great at the time, given the limitations of cellular devices, and worked great for a couple of decades. However, in that time, the devices that send the messages have advanced quite drastically.

Since 1992, we’ve gone from being a vague niche of home internet, regardless of whether people have broadband speeds on their phones, to 5G service in much of the world. The smartphones that people use to communicate can record 8K video and take extremely high-resolution photos. While phones and most available services have adapted to these developments, SMS and MMS have remained more or less where they were 20 years ago.

There have been attempts to improve it

An example of the Google messaging client
Google

Messaging on Android is a major issue and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by tech companies. Google is probably the biggest company dedicated to solving the texting problem, which makes sense when you consider that Android phones rely on texting and that Google owns Android. To solve the problem, Google has been pushing for a more up-to-date messaging standard: Rich Communication Services (RCS), which first arrived in 2007 and is more capable of meeting modern messaging requirements.

The potential new standard offers the ability to send high-definition photos and videos, send encrypted messages, enable read receipts, and offers a host of other features that will bring standard phone-to-phone messaging into the modern age. RCS is already available on Android phones, but requires an app that supports the service, such as Google’s messaging client.

It also only works when sending messages from one RCS-enabled app or device to another RCS-enabled app or device. There are a few, but many carriers are getting rid of theirs and just using Google by default. It’s also worth noting that RCS isn’t always enabled by default, and some phones don’t come with an RCS-compatible messaging app, so you’ll have to get one from the Play Store.

This is a major flaw in the standardization plan, as Google can’t seem to tidy up things it has control over. Even if Android ends up with a standard iMessage-like app for texting, it won’t work when texting to non-RCS phones. And there is a very large company that refuses to participate.

Google claims it’s mostly Apple’s fault

Twitter posts used as part of Google's RCS campaign
Google

It’s time to tackle the big blue elephant in the room. Apple iMessage doesn’t have any of these problems. Users can send encrypted messages over Wi-Fi or through their phone’s LTE/5G connection. There are numerous small features, such as the ability to like messages and tag members of group chats. Sending videos and images is no problem. The problem is that this only works when sending those images between iPhones. When you send or receive something from a device outside of the Apple ecosystem, it will use the SMS/MMS system, which is still the standard 30 years later.

There have been attempts to address this problem, but the company with the fruit logo does not play well with the others. Ironically, Apple might have been the one to bridge the gap, and an iMessage app for Android was discussed as far back as 2013 before the powers that be killed the idea. Apple choosing not to be proactive is one thing, but now Google claims its Silicon Valley rivals are the reason we don’t have a new, modern messaging standard. About half of the United States has an iPhone, so you can’t set a standard without Apple on board. However, if all phones have access to something on par with iMessage, rather than something 20 years out of date and nearly unusable, Apple loses a major selling point. To put pressure on Tim Cook and Co, Google has launched a campaign highlighting the problem and encouraging SMS users to take their frustration out on Twitter.

Will it get better soon?

If you’re hoping for better text messaging service, don’t hold your breath. Google is right, the ball is in Apple’s court, and a little pressure from a few social media accounts is unlikely to bring Apple down. Apple has previously resisted attempts to join in standardization. It has always been a company that did its own thing and expected others to follow as much as possible. Even the combined governments of Europe telling Apple to join the USB-C standard generated strong resistance from Apple. The company may ditch the port altogether rather than comply. Other standards, such as HDMI, have not had it easy either. With many Apple products, you may need to purchase an expensive adapter if you want to use them together with a non-Apple device.

While Google has its reasons, the new standard has been developed and is there to take it on. But Android users will be stuck with an outdated system until Apple changes its mind or the government decides to step in. In the meantime, Americans might want to consider a leaf from the Asian and European book and let a third-party app take care of their messaging needs. An app called WeChat is the standard in places like China, Western Europe tends to prefer WhatsApp, and Telegram is big once you head to eastern Germany. Signal is also an option. Sit down with your friends and decide which app works best for you.