Appledystopia: Independent Technology News

Google Breaks Android SMS Messaging

image credit: Google Play

published by Chand Bellur
December 13, 2020 at 3:25 p.m.


  • Google broke SMS messaging for millions of Android users by pushing a defective Carrier Services app onto devices.
  • Affected phones include devices from OnePlus, Samsung, TCL, Motorola, and LG.
  • Android users with RCS messaging were unaffected by the change.
  • Google is fixing this automatically by rolling back the change on myriad phones.
  • My personal phone was affected; however, SMS messaging functionality was only interrupted for 12 hours before Google resolved the issue.

Google Breaks SMS Messaging for Millions of Android Users

Google, the company that purchased and fostered the Android mobile operating system, ended up breaking text messaging for millions of users. My OnePlus 8 Pro phone was affected, and the outage caused some personal problems in my life.

Details of the outage remain scarce; however, the issue centers around Google’s Carrier Services app. Over a billion users have this app installed on their devices. Google uses the app to push new features live without user or carrier intervention. It’s a sort of backdoor into your device, allowing Google to push updates without your knowledge or consent. Before you get too upset, both Apple and Microsoft use similar technology to push small, critical updates to end-users.

The defect left many Android users wondering why they received no texts. I was personally hit by this bug on Friday and thought one of my friends was upset and ignored me. The next day, I saw her messages and read the news about Google’s massive mistake.

My OnePlus 8 Pro does not have the Google Carrier Services app installed, indicating that the defect has broader reach. It’s more likely that services integrated into Android are the culprit. That said, scores of Google Carrier Services reviews in the Play Store admonish the Mountain View tech giant for destroying SMS and forcing users to troubleshoot their devices.

Let Google Fix This For You

According to Play Store reviews, it appears that Google started quietly fixing the issue on Thursday, December 10. My device lost the ability to send and receive SMS messages on Friday, December 11, with service restored on Saturday. Given the deployment effort’s scale, it appears as though installing the defective components and removing them happened in staggered attempts.

Don’t try to fix this defect yourself. At best, you’ll end up wasting time. At worse, you may end up making changes that cause further problems. Google created this defect, and they’re the only ones who can fix it. If SMS doesn’t work, use your phone to call people until it’s back online.

At the time of this writing, your SMS messaging should be working again. If it still doesn’t work, you may want to wait, as some have created even more problems by trying to fix this themselves. You cannot fix this. Only Google can push the correct components on your device to restore SMS messaging.

Switch From SMS to RCS Messaging

I’m relatively new to Android, having purchased my first non-Apple smartphone just a few months ago. One thing about Apple is that there’s pretty much one option for texting — iMessage. It works well and offers rich messaging beyond mere SMS. In all of my years using the iPhone, Messages has never failed me.

Sure, there are other messaging apps, but they’re not bound to your phone number. They don’t integrate into the operating system, like native messaging services.

Google has its own iMessage rival — Rich Communication Services (RCS). Some believe that Google broke SMS when they pushed new RCS features live using its Carrier Services deployment infrastructure. Whatever happened, RCS continued to work, while SMS failed.

SMS is outdated, yet many Android users still embrace the messaging technology because it’s available by default. Some users can easily switch to RCS, with advanced, rich messaging bound to their phone number.

Setting up RCS on your Android device may be possible, and it should help avoid SMS defects, as you will no longer be using this outdated technology:

  1. Install Google Messages app on your device.
  2. Open Google Messages.
  3. Tap the three vertical dots on the top-right of your screen.
  4. Tap “Settings” on the menu.
  5. Tap “Chat Features”.
  6. If “Enable Chat Features” is activated, leave it on. If not, turn it on.

Not everyone will be able to use RCS on their Android phone. If your device is old and no longer receives updates, it’s unlikely that RCS will work. RCS doesn’t work on my brand new OnePlus 8 Pro. When I tap on “Chat Features”, I’m informed that my device doesn’t support them. Supposedly, Chat Features availability depends on your carrier. My carrier is Google Fi!

Android Text Messaging is a Dumpster Fire

These extra features, such as seeing when others are typing and sending high-resolution photos, are not yet available for my brand new, flagship Android phone. Some information I found on the Internet claims that this feature will work a few days after installing the app. I won’t hold my breath. Even if it works, the user experience of switching to RCS is awkward.

Beyond Google’s massive mistake, it’s clear that messaging is still Apple’s strong suit. By default, iPhone users can send end-to-end encrypted iMessages with rich content. My brand new Android phone still can’t do this. Researching the issue, it appears as though RCS breaks for a lot of users.

Messaging is critical to any smartphone, and the Android ecosystem is a mess! End users shouldn’t need a Ph.D. in computer science to set up rich text messaging.

This is the first time I’ve had a slight amount of buyer’s remorse over my Android phone. It’s well built and fast, but this text messaging mess is difficult to excuse. Breaking SMS for a day caused problems in my personal life, and now I find out that I’m stuck with this outdated technology.

Messaging is the most shameful aspect of the Android ecosystem. I now understand why people will forgo better screens, batteries, and software because Apple provides reliable, rich text messaging for its users. Texting is so central to modern-day communication, any smartphone that can’t deliver this technology, flawlessly, is a joke. If the Android ecosystem can’t straighten out rich text messaging, my next phone will be an iPhone.



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