Google has launched a free messaging service that will link up with text messages to rival WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage.
The messenger will be available on Android, the Google-owned operating system that runs almost every non-Apple smartphone on the market.
The new service, named Chat, works similarly to traditional SMS text messages but will notify senders when the recipient has read their message and show if they are typing, like many messaging apps.
It can support high resolution pictures and group conversations, like WhatsApp, as well as features like Gifs. It will be available on Android phones such as those from Samsung, LG and Huawei.
Messages between Chat users will be deducted from data plans if not using WiFi and if the recipient doesn’t use Chat, the message will be converted to traditional SMS.
Google, which has not confirmed Chat’s launch date, has been quietly working with mobile phone networks and smartphone makers to get them ready for the new service, which was revealed by the Verge.
The technology website reported that more than 50 mobile carriers including Vodafone and T Mobile and 11 manufacturers have signed up to support it.
The move will deal a blow to WhatsApp, which has become one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. More than two billion devices run on Android, double the amount of people using Facebook-owned chat app.
Messages on Chat will not be end-to-end encrypted, a layer of protection that makes it near impossible for an outsider to intercept messages. Encryption has been a point of contention for WhatsApp and apps like Telegram, which was accused by British MPs of enabling terrorism and crime by making it difficult for authorities to break into suspects’ communications.
For global adoption, Google will be counting on Apple supporting its Chat messages service, too, but its smartphone rival has yet to confirm it will be signing up. Apple’s iMessage has proved hugely popular, but is only available on the hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world. Roughly 87pc of all phones run on Android or versions of Google’s operating system, meaning far more phones could soon have Chat as opposed to iMessage.
Google also confirmed it was “pausing investment” on its current messaging app Allo, which was launched in 2016 as a Facebook Messenger rival. However, fewer than 50 million users have downloaded Allo. Most of the Allo team are now set to work on Chat.