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We've all been there. Whether you're an iPhone user with iMessage or an Android user with RCS, the group chat gets crippled by that one person that doesn't have the same kind of phone as the rest. That means that the messaging protocol falls back to SMS/MMS, which is decades old and can't handle what we'd even call a small file today. But with the announcement of iOS 17 yesterday and the subsequent release of the first developer betas, it seems that Apple has a solution that didn't get talked about in the WWC keynote.

The good news is that if you're using an iPhone, that one Android user won't be able to break group texts for you anymore. The bad news is that, at least with the behavior in beta 1, it will still be broken for the Android user.

There are several features we found, which were previously exclusive to iMessage conversations:

  • You can edit texts
  • You can reply in threads
  • iMessage quality video

Editing texts and threads

Like I said, these features, at this time, are exclusive to the iPhone users on the group text. You'll be able to send that green text and edit, but any Android users in the chat will still just see the original text. Presumably, this might be remedied at some point by sending a second text to the Android user that says that the text was edited. But as it stands right now, all iPhone users in the chat will see the change, and the Android users won't.

Threads are a bit kinder to the Android users on the chat, since all of those messages will at least show up. They just won't show up in the order that you want them to.

Higher quality photos and videos

Probably the biggest problem with MMS is just that it has this tiny file size limit. It wasn't made for sending modern images taken with smartphone cameras, and those pictures are compressed. When you look at that picture on a small screen like that, it's barely noticeable, but if someone sends you a nice photo of a loved one that you want to print on something larger, it's awful. Now, when you start talking about video, it's even worse. If you take a one-minute 4K 60fps video with your iPhone and send it out over MMS, the person on the other end can barely tell what's happening in it. The higher the quality and the longer the length, the more it's compressed.

When sending photos in iOS 17, it's reaching the other end, to iPhone users on the group chat, at full quality. The image I sent was 4032x3024 and came in at 2.02MB. The same image went through to the other iPhone user in the chat. The Android phone got a 2048x1536 image and 725KB.

When sending video, that's where the change was really noticeable. I recorded a 4K 60fps video that was about 21 seconds in length and 157MB in size. The iPhone received a 720p 30fps video that was 17.9MB, the same quality it gets compressed to if you send over iMessage. Here's the really wild part though. The video that the Android phone received was compressed to 293KB. It had a resolution of 176x144 with a 10fps frame rate.

All of these changes are a pretty big deal, and they solve some major pain points for iPhone users. Of course, it's not the solution that people actually want, which is a common, modern protocol between all devices, so the user doesn't actually have to think about who they're sending a text to. But hey, this is only beta 1. Maybe Apple will get there by September when this actually launches. After all, if Apple wanted to keep its own users on iMessage while using RCS for the rest, this would probably be the place to start.