Twilio adds RCS as Google mobilizes messaging ahead of MWC

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright February 23, 2018
Summary:
As Google reveals growing adoption of RCS business messaging ahead of MWC 2018, Twilio adds support for the new rich messaging successor to SMS

Feature pic © Nmedia - Fotolia.com
In the run-up to next week's huge Mobile World Congress (MWC 2018) in Barcelona, Google yesterday announced new details of of its plans for RCS, a richer version of the SMS text messaging standard that it hopes will help Android mobile devices leapfrog the functionality available in Apple's rival iMessage platform and other proprietary messaging services.

Specifically, Google announced details of an early access program for RCS business messaging, in which selected consumer brands in the US and Mexico are testing out functionality such as embedding maps, videos, image carousels, and interactive responses in RCS messages to their customers via RCS-compatible clients such as Android Messenger. For example, technology partner Twilio is working with 1-800-Flowers.com to roll out interactive order confirmations and delivery updates to customers via the new messaging platform.

Other US brands in the program include 1-800 Contacts, Booking.com, SnapTravel and Subway. Technology partners besides Twilio include 3C, CM.com, Mobivity, OpenMarketa and Smooch. Google says more than 40 carriers and device makers now use RCS, out of around 60 that support the standard, which has been developed under the auspices of the mobile industry's trade body GSMA.

Although many device makers have adopted Google's Android Messenger client, some including mobile giant Samsung are developing their own native clients to work with RCS. Google says it has been working with carriers to bring RCS messaging to other regions across Europe, North America and Latin America in the coming months, representing a total of 1.8 billion subscribers worldwide.

What RCS business messaging brings

RCS, which is effectively an extension of SMS that uses mobile data for messaging, includes functions that are already commonplace in modern mobile messaging apps, as Twilio explains in a blog post announcing its participation yesterday:

With RCS, users can share their location, attach hi-res photos and videos, add and remove members to a group chat, and enable read receipts and typing indicators. These rich messages are delivered to users’ default messaging app on their device; all you need is a phone number.

RCS Business Messaging is opening up RCS for businesses so they can reach consumers with more engaging content. This enables businesses to send branded messages, share rich cards like boarding passes, include carousels for scrolling through products, suggest replies and actions, instill confidence by sending from a verified businesses sender, and gain insight into how messages are performing with accurate read receipts and click-through data.

A better mobile experience

Twilio has added RCS support to its cloud-based communications platform in a way that allows developers to use its capabilities without having to think about it, says Patrick Malatack, VP of Product, who briefed diginomica ahead of yesterday's news.

One of the beauties of SMS is you're able to reach every phone on the planet. In a single API, we'll intelligently select RCS, or SMS if it's not an RCS-capable device.

As a developer, you shouldn't have to be thinking about the device on the other end.

The new capabilities will give brands more control over their customer experience, blurring the lines between product management and marketing, as Malatack explains:

Where the world of giving customers the right information at the right time stops, and the world of marketing begins — it blurs. By keeping them better informed, you give them a better experience.

It's really bringing these very personalized experiences to the brand. There's so many richer experiences you can create.

Richer interaction with consumers at scale

Adding this richer interaction also brings the engagement that consumers have with brands closer to how they engage with friends and family, he adds:

Think about how you interact with friends or family — you use voice, videos, messaging. When you think about how you interact with business, you should interact the same way.

The reason it's been hard is, it doesn't scale. Now with platforms like Twilio and advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, it's much easier to create these same experiences but do them at scale across the entire customer base.

Google is expected to reveal more details of the work it's been doing with mobile carriers and device makers during MWC 2018 next week.

My take

I've written extensively elsewhere about the importance of messaging as an interaction layer with automated systems, such as the systems brands are using to engage customers at scale. I've also explained why this is part of a bigger picture of how enterprises are likely to evolve. So any expansion of the messaging capabilities available to enterprises are welcome.

This announcement is especially interesting because it pulls away from the proprietary digital messaging platforms we've previously seen on mobile devices and gives support to a standard that, despite Google's involvement, is in principle vendor-neutral.

The hidden subtext here is that Google's strategy of working with the GSMA — effectively the mobile industry — to win support for RCS undermines the dominance of proprietary platforms such as Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WeChat in China.

Meanwhile, any expansion in the messaging options available to enterprises is good for Twilio, whose platform greatly simplifies the task of keeping track of all the interaction options enterprises have to offer their customers, employees and other stakeholders.