Text messaging is a lot more complicated than it used to be, especially when iPhones and Android devices are mixed together. Due to a few different factors, media attachments like photos and videos can end up degraded in quality when sent over text messages, depending on who the recipient is and what kind of phone they have.
If you've ever wondered why videos sent over text to/from an Android device don't look as good as videos sent over iMessage, you've come to the right place. Here, we'll explain why your memes and cute videos of pets look terrible when sent over SMS, and how to get around the problem.ANDROIDPOLICE VIDEO OF THE DAY
Multimedia Messaging Service, or MMS for short, is how phones send media content to other phones over text messages. It's a standard that was created in the early 2000s — a time when the photo quality of most cell phones was only a few megapixels — so perhaps it's not too surprising that smartphones have outgrown the technology.
MMS has a strict file size limit.
The main problem with MMS is that most carriers have an incredibly strict limit on the size of files that can be sent. For example, Verizon only allows images up to 1.2MB to be sent over text messages, and videos up to 3.5MB. AT&T is even stricter, only allowing videos up to 1MB in size. If an image or video is too large, it is compressed automatically.
You can see the difference in the below samples of my mom's dog eating the lift cord on some window blinds. The first video is the original 54MB recording (only affected by YouTube's own compression), while the second video is the downgraded 348KB version sent over AT&T.
By comparison, Apple's iMessage platform has a less-restrictive file size limit — somewhere around 100MB. That's why videos generally look better when sent from an iPhone to another iPhone, because the media never leaves Apple's servers. Media sent from an iPhone to an Android device, or anything sent between Android devices, will typically use MMS instead.
There's no fix that can improve videos sent over MMS, because the file size limits are enforced by carriers. However, there are workarounds that involve using different messaging protocols.
The easiest solution, in most cases, is to use a third-party messaging service that you and your recipients can agree on:
WhatsApp, the de-facto messaging standard in many parts of the world, will allow you to send videos up to 16MB big, but if you select to send videos as documents (by selecting "Document" instead of "Gallery" in the paper clip menu), you can go up to 100MB without further compression.WhatsApp Messenger Developer: WhatsApp LLCPrice: Free4.3Download
Telegram is another popular option for sending messages between phones, and it has an even higher limit of 1.5GB.Telegram Developer: Telegram FZ-LLCPrice: Free4.4Download
Skype is available on Android and iOS (as well as PCs), and allows files up to 300MB in size.Skype Developer: SkypePrice: Free4.1Download
Signal has end-to-end encryption on all messages (if privacy is most important to you), and supports videos up to 100MB.Signal Private Messenger Developer: Signal FoundationPrice: Free4.5Download
If the recipient already has Google Photos installed, you can also share backed up photos and videos to other people directly in the app. Just pick the desired video or photo from the Photos app, press the share button, and select one of your contacts (or create a link, then send that to the recipient).Google Photos Developer: Google LLCPrice: Free4.5Download
One more option is to use Rich Communication Services, or RCS for short. It's the intended replacement for MMS, with support for greater file sizes, and carriers are slowly all caving in to use Google's implementation as the one unifying standard. Google Messages offers RCS functionality and is generally available to everyone who has a phone number in the United States and, by now, many parts of the rest of the world. But there are still loads of problems, with people continuing to run into issues with RCS on Google Messages.Messages Developer: Google LLCPrice: Free4.2Download
Google's Messages app is currently also experimenting with a new way to send images and videos via SMS/MMS by sidestepping these protocols and instead automatically creating a Google Photos link that the recepient can open, with the full media quality intact. Neat, but not ready for prime time just yet — just something to look forward to.
With big parts of the US still relying on text messages and MMS for communication, it's a bummer that carriers just can't seem to come together to offer a simple solution, even if they'd just up the draconian file size limits active for MMS. But in the current state of affairs, falling back on internet-based messaging platforms is the simplest and most logical thing to do.Apple Music's working on some better-looking widgets for your home screen
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Corbin is a tech journalist and developer who worked at Android Police from 2016 until 2021. Check out his other work at corbin.io.MoreFrom Corbin Davenport