Google is rolling out a new chat service to replace standard texting, a move that analysts say will offer Android users advanced features already found in popular chat services such as Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp.
But the unveiling also represents a strategic retreat for the tech giant, experts say, which has struggled to prop up a dedicated chat app of its own.
The service, dubbed Chat, is not a Google messaging app but will run on Android phones through partnerships with dozens of mobile carriers around the world.
Chat offers several upgrades for Android users whose messaging relies on SMS, or short message service, a text-based system that has been widely adopted but surpassed by more feature-rich messaging apps.
Using a new standard called Rich Communications Services, or RCS, Chat will allow users to send high-resolution photos, videos and GIFs, receive read receipts and see when the person they are texting with is typing a reply.
Google also will enable Google assistant through Chat.
The GSMA, a global cellular industry group based in London, estimates that 350 million people will be using RCS by the end of the year. The group expects that number to double in 2019.
While many inexpensive phones won’t be able to use the new messaging standard, GSMA estimates that three billion people could potentially upgrade to RCS.
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Sprint already has enabled the messaging standard in the United States, and T-Mobile has said it will do so this year. Verizon, however, has not.
AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The launch of Chat follows several failed attempts by Google to create its own competitive chat app.
Allo, its most recent messaging product, was launched two years ago. But it has struggled to gain the massive following enjoyed by Facebook’s two messaging apps, WhatsApp, with 1.5 billion users, and Messenger, with 1.3 billion users.
Google is now “pausing” its work on Allo as it shifts its development efforts to Chat, the company told the Verge.
Google declined to comment.