It has been a long time coming, but support for the Rich Communications Service Universal Profile protocol, better known as RCS Chat, has finally arrived in the US. Chat is a more open version of Apple's iMessage, which brings a number of the features that we've come to expect from modern messaging systems that SMS and MMS have not been able to support. The most obvious features will involve status indication of a conversation: typing indicators and delivery/read receipts. It's an interesting paradox when you consider that the smartphone revolution made these features ubiquitous, the most ubiquitous messaging system has been without this feature.
In addition to status indications, RCS Chat will also bring the ability to attach data other than photos and videos. Some of the types of data that could be most useful to transfer will be truly mobile-first types, such as mobile boarding passes. Also, the ability to include programmable features, you could go so far as to select your seat on a flight through your messaging app. Possibly most importantly, Chat messages can and will be sent over data (including Wi-Fi), rather than traditional SMS and MMS.
The important thing to remember here is that Chat is hardware and platform agnostic, meaning that, while Google is the first company to support it completely, it could eventually come to the iPhone as well. While dreaming is nice, let's stay focused on reality and what is needed to make your Android phone compatible with RCS right now. First, you're going to need a toolkit called Carrier Services. This toolkit has no UI and no settings, but it brings the capabilities to your device. Next, you need to install Messages, the newest version of the Android texting app. With these two pieces in place, you are ready to try out the advanced messaging features.