Proving once again that their messaging apps are the Silly Con Valley equivalent of the Spinal Tap drummer, Google last week announced their plan for something called “Chat” – which basically means unifying the competing standards for Rich Communication Services (RCS) around a single profile and getting carriers to adopt this. So instead of backing a specific app, Google’s plan is to take a ten-year-old standard and try to get carriers to actually standardize on it and adopt it and then just support that in Android rather than trying to compete with the message solutions that are out there.
In theory this is not a bad idea. RCS is supposed to be a clean-and-clear standard for the sort of things that messaging has evolved into since SMS took over the world outside the US. It’s a data service like MMS, not carried on the control channels of the GSM implementation, but since all cellular service is basically just data now that’s less objectionable than it might have been. RCS is meant to incorporate standardized support for file sharing, video calling, group chat, presence and location info – all the stuff that you expect now from a mobile messaging app like WhatsApp, only you could (theoretically) use any manner of application to communicate using RCS.
Every major company has at least one white whale that it chases forever with no success. With Microsoft, it was digital music. With Google, it’s social media. With Facebook, it’s mobile, although Zuckface finally learned his lesson and just bought companies that did mobile better than he did. It’s not coincidence that I use both Instagram and WhatsApp, despite their Facebook ownership, because each was independently developed to do what they do and do it well. Instagram – assuming you’re not a FOMO-crippled twentysomething measuring yourself against a Kardashian – is far less obnoxious and awful than Twitter or Facebook. WhatsApp, meanwhile, delivered what RCS promised: a data-based featureful chat standard that works across platforms and national borders alike. If I want to talk to someone in, say, Norway or Kazakhstan or Australia, and they’re on an Android phone, WhatsApp is the only real solution. And not least because everyone on those countries is already on WhatsApp. America didn’t go in big on WhatsApp because the iPhone’s own implementation – iMessage providing multimedia and read receipts and extended services between iPhones and SMS/MMS for everything else – made additional apps superfluous for most users.
It’s also encrypted end-to-end. The one huge red flag that’s missing from the RCS spec is encryption. In 2018, that’s a massive hole in the spec. Five years ago, when RCS was being branded as Joyn and just starting to roll out in parts of Europe and South America, that might have been less of a big deal. But now that Signal is the gold standard for consumer secure messaging, and now that WhatsApp has become the dominant presence as a cross-platform solution using Signal’s encryption, it’s hard to make the case for an open standard that has no encryption offering of its own and no obvious way to piggyback one on there.
But then, just letting WhatsApp be the answer for everyone isn’t a big help either. Yes, it’s featureful and cross-platform and encrypted and used everywhere in the world except China (of which more later, probably), but it’s also a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of Facebook, the world’s most untrustworthy tech company. They were doing pretty good and actually charging money for their service, a slick $1 a year, but now they apparently have no clear plan to monetize…although you know Facebook isn’t going to let that lie.
So what happens? Now we have an open standard – albeit one being driven heavily by a single company trying to patch its one big flaw – but missing the thing that makes it most reliable. But having an standard-based approach not controlled by a single company – even if it’s Apple or OpenWhisper – is far more desirable. But encryption is indispensable in 2018.
If ifs and buts were bros with nuts we’d all be running vasectomy clinics.
Speaking of things kept safe in the groin region, this is where I reluctantly admit that while the iPhone X has been mostly successful, and capable of displacing most every other device, it’s still just too unwieldy to use without both hands. Which is annoying. Until the iPhone 6 was foisted on me in 2014 to replace a thoroughly-compromised Verizon-spec iPhone 5 (never ever get a mobile phone from Verizon, the end), mobile phones meant a one-handed device, even my bulky Nokia 6620 or SonyEricsson P800. But the iPhone 6 was just a hair too big, which is why I raced to the SE as soon as I could and never looked back. A one-handed phone means you don’t need the Apple Watch for a remote control; it’s small enough that you can pull it out for ApplePay and notifications and such.
And now my attempts to wish an iPhone SE2 into existence seem to be coalescing – right now, today, the Great Mentioner seems to think the iPhone 7 chipset (complete with no headphone jack) will find its way into the body of the SE. Same camera, same TouchID, same 4-inch screen. Maybe more waterproof. Maybe (MAYBE) wireless charging. Almost certainly a larger battery. Almost certainly no FaceID or 3DTouch or Animoji. The battery life from the 6S to the 7 was about the same, so not expecting any great improvement there, but the SE had fabulous battery as is. A price point a little higher is being kicked around – maybe $500 or so, maybe by Memorial Day sometime.
And I think I would go for it, probably trading in my existing SE for credit and just eating the rest. Warranty refreshed, probable lifespan of updates refreshed – it’s all about the promise of needing a one-handed travel-ready phone able to go off to London or Bangkok or Geneva at the drop of a hat, a phone that needs to have WhatsApp and Signal enabled and work with Oyster card readers as readily as the touchless payment terminal at Boots. It’s another artifact of the life I aspire to have, someday, when there’s actual retirement and ready money. Which makes it a figment of my imagination, obviously…but it’s a figment I can actually purchase and pull into the real world, like my Ricksons or the Ebbets Field cap.