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Google to evolve Android Messages into ‘Chat’ using RCS, will pause Allo development

This may finally be the one Google chat service that works.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Google has a plan to launch a unified messaging system. Right, it's done this what feels like a dozen times before — but the reality is it's been like half a dozen, and that's still bad. Google Talk, Google Voice, Google+ Huddles, Hangouts, Allo ... yeah, not a set of successes right there. The latest attempt, according to a great report from The Verge is a new system simply called "Chat" that will be built into the default Android Messages app by the end of the year. And thankfully, this isn't following the same playbook as previous attempts.

The short version is that Allo, launched just two years ago, is having its development halted indefinitely — and the entire team that's been evolving that standalone chat app will be moving to work on Android Messages. Yes that's Google's default SMS app, and . We've already seen trickles of this move, with little additions like Allo's Smart Replies arriving in Messages, but now they're going all in.

In the coming months, and for sure by the end of the year, Google will have built out a comprehensive set of advanced messaging features — if not fully duplicating Allo — in the Android Messages app. And it will be available to anyone who installs the app (plus one more caveat: carrier), including the hundreds of millions of people who will have it loaded on their phone by default.

Seeing Chat in Android Messages succeed where Google has failed so many times all hinges on this new standard called RCS, or Rich Communications Services. You've heard us talk a lot about it, though in fits and starts as various carriers and phone makers got on board. RCS, as the name implies, is a standard for providing rich chat services not unlike Google Hangouts, or WhatsApp or WeChat or any of the dozens of other super-popular over-the-top chat services. The difference is that RCS is an evolution of SMS, so it's backwards-compatible with the legacy SMS/MMS system we know today. That means that these new "rich" communications will happen right in your regular SMS app, using your phone number as a profile identifier, and if you send a message to someone who doesn't have RCS it'll just come through as a regular SMS.

But that compatibility with SMS cuts both ways: in order for RCS to work, you need the carriers of all people involved in the chat to support it and be using phones that support it. Carriers like T-Mobile got on board early, but bigger names like Verizon straggled. Google now has over 50 carriers on board worldwide, plus lots of big names like Samsung and Huawei committing to including RCS compatibility on their phones (Samsung ships its own SMS app called Messages).

Like iMessage and WhatsApp, there will also be a desktop component to Chat. Using a QR code (again, similar to WhatsApp) to authenticate, users will see a mirrored version of Chat on the web. But you use Hangouts, you claim. What's happening there? Hangouts has been in the process of being converted into an enterprise service to compete with the likes of Slack, but with the announcement of Chat, it sounds like Hangouts for personal use will eventually be wound down.

The new Chat team is being run by a familiar face: Anil Sabharwal. His team led the launch of Google Photos, which is arguably Google's most important recent product and one that's widely liked from smartphone nerds down to average users.

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