Google Messages logo on smartphone laying on table (4)

At some point this year, the unthinkable will finally happen: iPhones will support rich communication services (RCS). This will knock a few bricks out of the infamous “walled garden” that prevents iPhone users who rely exclusively on iMessage from effectively communicating with Android users. While people outside the United States have already solved this interoperability problem through the use of platform-agnostic apps (WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.), some iPhone users in the US are so addicted to iMessage that they will ostracize friends and family or even refuse to date someone who initiates the “green bubble” in their conversations.

Sadly, the green bubble isn’t going anywhere. RCS support, however, will allow several notable new features to work between the native messaging apps of Android phones and iPhones. These include read receipts, typing indicators, location sharing, and the ability to send high-resolution media.

That last one is the most notable. Remember back in 2022 when Apple CEO Tim Cook made the completely embarrassing “buy your mom an iPhone” quip to an iPhone user who was asking why they can’t share videos with their mom, an Android user? Well, RCS support will finally solve that issue, and that person won’t need to buy their mom an iPhone. When that all went down, I wrote an opinion piece about how Cook’s statement was beyond awful from an environmental point of view but also from the point of view of its own users, one of whom was physically right there in front of him telling him how much they want to communicate with their mother effectively!


With all this in mind — and as a diehard Android user who has personally experienced “green bubble hate” — you can imagine how excited I was to try out RCS on an iPhone for myself. It’s currently only available in iOS 18 beta in the US, so it’s not widely rolled out, but I got it set up on my iPhone 12 and started checking what the experience would be like once Apple rolls it out officially sometime later this year.

Unfortunately, in my testing, I found out there’s going to be a huge problem, and it’s not Apple’s fault; it’s Google’s.

Google Messages sends super-compressed images over RCS

Google Messages app open on smartphone (1)

In the US, if you’re on Android and using RCS, you’re likely using Google Messages. Although Samsung Messages also supports RCS in some locations, let’s focus on Google’s app for now. We’ll get to Samsung’s in a bit.

Although Google Messages is probably the best messaging app you can use for texting on Android, it unfortunately compresses the images it sends significantly. This is not really news, but it might not be something you’re aware of. To catch you up, in 2023, Google added a new toggle in Messages’ settings called Send photos faster. This is automatically toggled on and compresses all images you send. To see the toggle for yourself, open Messages, tap your profile avatar, then go to Messages settings, and the toggle will be the first one you see.

Even if you turn off the ‘Send photos faster’ setting, Google Messages is still heavily compressing your outbound images.

Here’s an example of what happens when you have this toggled on. The original image (captured with a Galaxy S24 Ultra) is on the left, and the image sent through Google Messages (received by a Pixel 8 Pro) is on the right. Note how much lower of a resolution the received image has, as well as its significant reduction in both megapixel count and file size:

As you can see, the original 50MP image was reduced to 1.9MP, slashed down to a 1,200 x 1,600 resolution, and reduced in file size by a whopping 98% to just 147KB. Honestly, this isn’t much better than what you’d achieve just sending a photo as an MMS.

Naturally, you would assume that if you turned off that Send photos faster toggle, you would then send uncompressed images. However, that is not the case. Check out this second example below, with the same setup as above, but with that toggle turned off:

In this example, we see less compression than with that toggle switched on, but we’re still getting a very, very compressed photo. As far as file size goes, instead of a 98% compression rate, turning off the toggle brings that down to a 93% compression rate. Wow, much resolution, so better.

In other words, when it comes to sending photos through RCS in Google Messages — even between flagship Android phones — you have two choices: ludicrously compressed or super compressed. This hasn’t been a secret or anything, so you might already know this. I wasn’t aware it was this bad, though, so I can only imagine at least a portion of people reading this didn’t either.

Regardless of whether people knew about this or not, one thing most users won’t know yet is that Apple Messages, in the vast majority of cases, does not compress images when sending them through RCS.

iPhones with RCS support won’t have this problem

RCS on iMessage video in thread

I did this same test on my iPhone 12 with iOS 18 beta and RCS support activated. Below on the left, you’ll see the original image captured with the iPhone, and next to it, you’ll see the received image on both the Galaxy S24 Ultra and Pixel 8 Pro. Note that nothing changes:

You might think the image size is fairly small here, thanks to Apple’s HEIC file type. Perhaps there’s no compression because the file size is small enough that it doesn’t matter? I tested this, too, by sending a very large JPG that I downloaded from the internet. It turns out that the iPhone will compress massive images before they go out, but only the file size is affected, with the megapixel count and resolution remaining unaffected:

I tested this out with other images with smaller file sizes and saw that there’s no compression for images under around 40MB. In fact, in one experiment, a 7.8MB downloaded image came through at 11MB, so there was some sort of decompression happening there.

Samsung Messages (with the right settings) doesn’t do this, meaning this is not an Android problem. It’s a Google Messages problem.

Interestingly, Samsung Messages on Galaxy smartphones — if you have access to RCS and the proper settings — doesn’t compress sent images either. In areas where RCS support is available on Samsung Messages, you can tweak the app’s settings to send photos uncompressed (Settings > Chat settings > Shared image quality > Original). When you do that, photos arrive as advertised, i.e., completely uncompressed.

I’d also like to point out that all three of my devices — the iPhone 12, Galaxy S24 Ultra, and Pixel 8 Pro — have their own T-Mobile SIMs installed. I thought that maybe this was a T-Mobile issue, but nope: I had Android Authority staff members from around the globe use RCS in Google Messages to send high-res photos to my iPhone, and every single one came through heavily compressed.

In other words, sending ultra-compressed images is a Google Messages problem, not an Android, RCS, or carrier problem.

These experiments prove one thing: iPhones will not send out compressed RCS images, while Android phones on Google Messages will. That’s bad.

So, to summarize, this experiment proves that when Apple Messages users send a photo over RCS, Google Messages users will get an image with the same resolution and megapixel count (and, in most cases, the same file size) as what was sent. On the flip side, when a Google Messages user sends a photo to an Apple user, the photo that lands on the iPhone will be shrunk down by up to 98%.

This is a really big problem, and Google only has a short amount of time to fix it.

This is Google’s only chance at a first impression

Pixel 8 Pro vs iPhone 15 Pro camera shootout

It’s no secret that a huge swathe of iPhone users think that iPhones are universally better than Android phones. Apple does a terrific job marketing this message, especially regarding photo capture. I am certain that most iPhone users, if asked, would probably argue that iPhone cameras are superior to Android cameras. However, a flagship Android camera is, by most metrics, superior to an iPhone camera through objective analysis. We’ve proven this time and time again in our camera shoot-outs, such as in our pitting of a Pixel 8 Pro against an iPhone 15 Pro Max. The results speak for themselves.

Despite this, Apple users are basing their opinions on what they see in their day-to-day lives, and what they’ve seen for years is not good. So you can’t really blame them for buying into the Apple hype. For years now, people who only use iMessage have exclusively seen trash photos from Android users because those photos come to them through MMS, which compresses them down to the point that they are pixelated gobbledygook. Why wouldn’t they think Android phones have terrible cameras?

With RCS support, Google finally has the opportunity to show iPhone users that Android cameras aren’t awful. It’s a huge deal.

With years of bad blood between iPhone users and Android users when it comes to photo sharing, Google can’t afford to drop the ball here.

However, if the photos Google Messages users send to iPhone users through RCS are still super-compressed, the old misconceptions about Android phones will continue to prevail. Obviously, these RCS photo examples I’ve shown here are still much better than MMS, but what will iPhone users say when they get super-compressed images from Android users and Android users get uncompressed, full-quality snaps from iPhone users? If anything, that will have the opposite effect of what Google should want, with iPhone users being like, “Ugh, even with RCS, these Android photos are still pretty bad,” and with Android users being like, “Hey, these iPhone images look great! Maybe I should switch.” That is, obviously, not good for Android.

Google would likely argue that Android users can send full-resolution images and videos through a Google Photos link instead, which works across any platform. While this is certainly a viable option, it’s an extra step that most people simply don’t take. It also only works if people have their photos in Google Photos and either pay for space above the free 15GB threshold or only have a small collection that stays under that limit. Either way, sending that link can’t compete with the convenience and ease of just sending the photo itself to the chat, so Google can’t use that linking system as an excuse — especially when Samsung and Apple offer the streamlined system users expect.

I sincerely hope Google addresses this issue soon. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance at a first impression, and if Google Messages doesn’t have the ability to equal the iPhone when it comes to RCS messaging right from Day One, it’s going to take a lot of work to undo that reputation later on down the road. As it stands right now, Google Messages has years of bad blood related to photo sharing to counteract already, and my testing shows that it is currently behind the curve in this key area — and Apple Messages’ RCS support isn’t even stable yet.

This is your one chance, Google. Make it count.

->Google Actualités

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