Last year, Google surprised us all with a new feature that improved the iMessage experience on iPhones. Instead of ugly strings of text cluttering iPhone-Android conversations with “Mike laughed at” or “Karen loved” messages, Google mapped its own emoji to Apple’s tapbacks, so a pleasant icon appeared instead.
The feature is so good that Apple took steps to make sure it works for everyone in iOS 16. Now Google is taking it a step further. Instead of limiting tapbacks to RCS/iMessage conversations, it’s also starting to allow emoji reactions for SMS texts from iPhone users. In a thinly veiled dig at Apple, Google writes: “While RCS is the ultimate solution, we do what we can to help Android users have a way to consistently respond to notifications.”
This will undoubtedly make things objectively worse for iPhone users. Where tapbacks were previously limited to RCS, which plays well with iMessage, Android users will now be able to respond to any text with a reaction emoji, even if they’re not using RCS. And it will send the iPhone one of those “Brad liked” replies that repeats the entire message they’re responding to.
It’s hard not to see this as something of a shot from Google. The company has been on a crusade against Apple’s refusal to introduce RCS on the iPhone, telling reporters that it is “up to Apple” to decide whether to incorporate the change into iMessage. We’re hoping that won’t happen until iOS 17 at the earliest (if at all), but if things get bad enough, Apple might relent.