RCS promises to be a major upgrade to the Native Messenger on your Android smartphone. But is all the talk about a Sleeping Giant over blown?
RCS vs. OTT Messengers
RCS, or Rich Communications Services, is a protocol that's been around for several years. It allows carriers to provide services like Voice and Video Calls, File Sharing (think Photos), and of course Chatting 1:1 or as a Group. The problem with RCS for years was that it requires Interoperability between carriers, otherwise end users can only use the messenger among friends on the same network. These contracts take time and create a complicated user experience (Johnny: "Why didn't you get my text?").
Jibe Mobile created a Hub to allow carriers to create one NNI (Network-to-Network-Interface) with their communications service in order to create interoperability with any other carrier also connected to the Hub, provide they used their white-label messenger (Messenger Plus). They offered colourful skins so carriers could "customise" the user interface. Google acquired Jibe last year, and at MWC a few weeks ago they made some announcements. Yippie!
Google's new platform is great, don't get me wrong. However, it is great as an upgrade to the native messenger available on your Android smartphone if it supports RCS (btw only a fraction of all Android devices currently support it, though that will certainly change). The idea that RCS will emerge as a rival to OTT Messengers like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or WeChat (not to mention Instagram, SnapChat, or anything else new that "tweens" are using) is unfounded in reality, or really optimistic.
The bottom-line is people use OTT Messengers (like other social media) because their friends use it, it's personal, it's unique, and often it's private -- or at least more private than your Google-provided messenger. And more than ever, OTT Messengers are evolving to rival not SMS or other Communication tools, but Operating Systems themselves. They are the new layer upon which all m_commerce is being built... or rather integrated with.
If App distribution was broken before, it's dead now. The tops apps are almost always Facebook, Google, or Apple (or some other usual suspect). Services, both private and public, don't have the time or money to compete with those giants for audience. Enter the OTT Messenger with a dedicated audience that's big and local. On-demand services, eCommerce, traditional businesses, public services, payment (p2p, c2b, and even c2g) can all be integrated to the OTT Messenger. And these integrations can be surfaced, or not, based on wherever the user is. WeChat is a great example of this, and they are pushing into Subsaharan Africa something fierce with their major shareholder Naspers. That's significant in several ways, but in terms of the above examples that means millions of people who are already using their phones to pay for everything. A nudge may be all it takes to put WeChat and Naspers at the centre of m_Commerce there similarly to how WeChat has positioned itself in China.
In addition to services, OTT Messengers are ideal for content distribution which drive downloads for other types of apps. This could be anything, literally.
So sleeping giant? Maybe, those guys at Google are obviously creative and smart. We'll see what they come up with. But on the face of things, Google's new Jibe makes for some fancier Native Messengers, but will hardly impact the impressive rise of OTT Messengers to the centre of our smartphone experience.