Google’s Message app can now handle iMessage reactions and challenges Apple with new features

Google is giving its default Mail app a big upgrade, the company announced today. The Messages app, which comes pre-installed on most Android phones, will get a number of new features with the update. Most notably, it will fix the long-standing issue where iMessage “Tapbacks” weren’t delivered as emoji reactions, but instead sent as a separate message. It’s an annoyance that makes chats between Android and iPhone users confusing, cluttered, and way too loud.

Other upcoming updates include reminders to remind you to reply to messages you missed, separate tabs for work and personal messages, reminders on birthdays you might want to celebrate, support sharper videos via Google Photos integration and an expanded set of emoji mashups, among others.

After the update, feedback from iPhone users will be sent as emoji on text messages on Android. Like on iMessage, the reaction emoji – such as love, laughter, confusion, or excitement – will appear on the right side of the message. (On Android, it’s bottom right.) This feature is rolling out to Android devices set to English first, but other languages ​​will follow.

Picture credits: google

These improved reactions were already available to beta users of the Messages app, but Google hasn’t said when they will be available to the public. However, testers noted that Android’s interpretation of which emoji to use varies slightly from iPhone’s. For example, the “heart” reaction on Android becomes the “face with heart eyes” emoji. And iMessage’s exclamation mark reaction becomes the “face with open mouth” emoji.

Google is also integrating Google Photos into the Message app to enhance the video sharing experience. While the modern RCS standard allows users of Android devices to share high-quality videos with each other, those same videos appear blurry when shared with iPhone ones because iMessage does not support RCS. By sending the link to the video via Google Photos, iPhone users will be able to watch the video in the same high resolution. This feature will also later include support for photos.

This addition is meant to push Apple into adopting the industry standard by shaming the company on video quality.

So far, Google has been talking a lot about Apple’s decision to avoid supporting RCS, largely because adopting RCS would allow Google to better compete with Apple’s iMessage. But Google isn’t mistaken when it points out that Apple isn’t serving its own customers very well by reverting iMessage to the older, less secure SMS standard. (An odd choice for a privacy-focused company like Apple claims.)

The lack of support also leads to all sorts of inconsistencies when messaging. For example, when texting another iPhone user, iMessage users can see typing indicators, use read receipts, and view high-res media. These features would work when communicating with Android users if iMessage supported RCS, but Apple chose not to, resulting in a poor experience for its own customers.

Apple, to some extent, is profiting by making SMS the “worst” experience, as it can help lock down the ecosystem. But critics say decisions like this led to iMessage’s failure as the global messaging champion; users around the world have instead turned to third-party messaging apps — like WeChat, Messenger, Telegram and WhatsApp — in part because Apple has chosen not to compete with Android, or even keep up with basic messaging functionality modern.

Meanwhile, the Google Messages upgrade raises the bar for how a default messaging app works, at least in terms of consumer convenience – although in Google’s case, more efforts should be made to protect user privacy. Still, it’s good to see steady improvements just a app, instead of deploying another – as had been the case with the company’s giddy messaging strategy in previous years.

Picture credits: google

In addition to the fixes above, which aim to address issues with Apple’s continued use of text messages, Messages will now automatically sort messages into the Personal and Work tabs of the app, so you can more easily find the messages you need. Also, to reduce clutter, you can configure it so that one-time password messages automatically disappear after 24 hours. This feature was already available in India and is now coming to the US

The app will also help you nurture your relationships better, nudging you if you forgot to reply to a text or reminding you if it’s your friend’s birthday. (They won’t know this unless you’ve saved their birthday information in your contacts app.) The nudges will first roll out to English users worldwide.

YouTube links sent via Messages will now include a video preview directly in the conversation.

Finally, Google has updated its Emoji Kitchen feature in its Gboard keyboard, which lets you mix and match two different emoji to create your own. Now that selection is bigger with over 2,000 new mashups available as stickers. Gboard’s on-device grammar checking feature is also coming to all Android devices, having first launched on Pixel devices.

Picture credits: google

New features in the Messages app are one of the highlights of a number of other Google product updates rolling out today, including improvements to Android widgets, Google TV, Google Photos, nearby sharing, Android Auto, accessibility features, and more.