Google Messages has started letting some users react with any emoji

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Google has started letting some users of its Messages app react to text messages with any emoji, instead of limiting them to the standard set of seven that have been available in the app for a while now (via 9to5Google). The feature’s similar to what other messaging platforms like Slack, WhatsApp, and paid versions of Telegram have — pressing and holding on a message gives you the standard emoji reactions, but you can then access the picker to react with whatever you want.

The expanded emoji reactions appear to be a limited test at this point — 9to5Google says it’s heard two reports of it being rolled out, and while one person on The Verge’s staff has access to it, two other people who checked do not. Google didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment on the feature.

As with any features that are added to messaging services, the extra reactions can be a bit messy depending on who you’re texting, and what communications standards their phone supports. They seem to work fine if both parties are using RCS, the SMS replacement that Google’s been pushing for. My phone doesn’t have access to the extended picker yet, but my colleague’s reactions showed up correctly when I was using Google’s Messages app.

Other configurations can get messy, though. On the same phone, which obviously supports RCS, Samsung’s Messages app shows the reaction as a separate text message, saying “? to ‘Can you react to this message?’” The same’s true when my colleague reacts to a text from an iPhone user, as those are SMS only (much to Google’s chagrin).

Screenshot of a text message conversation. One message says “Hi,” and a reply says “face with wide open eyes emoji to ‘Hi.’”
That the reactions don’t translate to iPhones isn’t a surprise. For one, Apple’s Tapback system only lets you use a specific set of symbols, so it’s unlikely the company’s Messages app has the ability to add an arbitrary emoji to a message. Even if it did, who knows if it would; after years of Apple users’ reactions showing up as separate text messages for Android users, it appeared as if the two companies had worked out a solution, with iMessage’s and Google Message’s reactions translating between the two platforms. And yet, when I tested it today with the standard reactions, I was back to the same old system of getting separate “[emoji] to [message]” texts instead of beautifully-displayed reactions when messaging between an Android phone and iPhone.
Regardless of whatever Apple and Google have going on, I am happy to see Google bringing this feature to its texting platform, even if it’s really only elegant when you’re doing RCS chats. It’s a feature I’ve always wanted everywhere, and it seems like Google’s working on making that the case, at least for the people using its app.
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