Apple's new stance on RCS may have been forced by China

RCS support will be added to iPhone sometime in 2024

Apple's decision to introduce RCS support for iMessage sometime in 2024 was not driven by pressure from Europe, but rather China may have had more to do with the move, according to a new report.

In November, after years of pressure from Google, Apple agreed to introduce support for the somewhat flawed RCS messaging standard in iMessage. At the time, Apple said it would arrive at some point in 2024.

But while some believed the European Union had something to do with it, one report said Apple's change of heart may have been caused by political pressure from China.

John Gruber's Audacious Fireball first mentions the European Commission's decision that Apple does not qualify as a gatekeeper subject to the Digital Markets Act. This decision means that Europe was not going to force Apple to allow third-party apps to use iMessage services.

He cites November reports that Apple's decision was somehow influenced by Europe as making “zero sense” other than, apparently, demonstrating a belief that some government regulation is better than relying on market forces.

Gruber adds that there were leaks in the EU in September that iMessage should not be considered a gatekeeper, before Apple's November confirmation of RCS. This meant that Europe's claims “made no sense in terms of time.”

The lack of explicit mention of RCS in the DMA is also a factor. The law mentions interoperability of messaging platforms, but since RCS is not an interoperability protocol and does not have encryption as a messaging platform, it is not much better than SMS itself.

Also discussed is the suggestion that the Commission forcing Apple is “lazy thinking,” according to Gruber, despite years of Apple's reluctance to support RCS.

Apple's use of phone numbers and email to allow users to use iMessage also stands out from other platforms, especially when combined with carrier-based SMS services. Using email as iMessage's primary unique identifier along with phone numbers means you can use it without a phone number at all.

SMS support in the Messages app is more Apple magic than something that permeates all of its hardware, since SMS themselves are still sent and received through the iPhone, and Apple simply syncs between devices. The Mac is not capable of processing SMS on its own without the iPhone as a channel.

SMS requires an iPhone to work, so does RCS, but iMessage does not, Gruber adds. Even if iMessage were considered a gatekeeper platform, adding RCS would not make a difference to DMA compliance since the messaging app is multi-platform: iMessage and SMS.

China demands RCS

To answer why Apple changed its position on RCS, Gruber can't say for sure, but after months of online rumors, he states that Apple was “virtually forced” by China.

Gruber notes that Chinese carriers have supported RCS for years, to the point that the Chinese government began codifying into law in 2023 that new 5G devices will require certification to support RCS in the country.

Highlighting the country's problems with surveillance and privacy, Gruber believes the Chinese government is not concerned about the lack of encryption in RCS.

He underscores these claims by insisting that “RCS support in iOS is entirely China-centric.”

Although Apple is believed to be choosing to ignore RCS so that it doesn't have to deal with new non-E2EE protocols or new carrier-controlled protocols, Chinese government control comes into play and forces changes. the report ends.

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