Messaging on Android is going to be upgraded with a new 'Chat' feature, which is essentially Google's answer to boosting Android's messaging experience on the Android platform to be more of an enjoyable one. One that comes complete with all of the things that you might want out of an app that you use to send messages, or texts, or SMS or whatever you choose to call them. To be clear, 'Chat' is not going to be just Google's thing. While Google might deserve the bulk of the credit for getting this going, 'Chat' is really something that will be everyone's thing.
Chat is basically the culmination of all the work Google has been doing with RCS, or Rich Communication Services, the successor to SMS text messages that all carriers and phone manufacturers currently support. While some apps and services, as well as carriers and phone brands, already support RCS, or at the very least signed on to support it, it hasn't reached a complete rollout. Chat is going to likely change all of that. According to a report by The Verge Chat will be integrated with Android Messages in the future (which is supposed to sometime this year, though there hasn't been a confirmation on exact timing) and will be turned on automatically for anyone using Android Messages on their device. Chat is said to be available for a majority of users in "the near future" but it was also stated that carriers would have the say when their own subscribers will see it live on handsets running on their networks, so not everyone will have the benefits of Chat at the same time.
As far as what Chat will bring to the table, think back to anything that has been talked about with RCS messaging over the past year or two. Chat will introduce things like read receipts and full resolution images and video into messaging, along with other elements like group texts and typing indicators, all things which you'll generally find in many of the most popular messaging apps like Telegram, WhatsApp Facebook Messenger and more. Messages with Chat won't be encrypted, though, so it's important to remember this fact if you're wanting your messages to have a little more safeguarded protection, and in this case you'll still have to use messaging apps that offer this, and on Android those are a little more scarce though there are options. Another important point to note is that since not all users are going to have Chat turned on at the same time, if one user with Chat sends a message to someone who doesn't have it yet, then the message for the recipient will default back to a standard SMS message. The same goes for sending a message from a Chat-enabled phone to someone using iMessage, as this too does not support the RCS standard.
Users can expect other nifty features to make their way into the Android Messages app as well. Google Assistant for example is said to be on the books as an incoming feature as is a native capability to search for GIFs, though this last features is technically already available if you use Gboard as your default keyboard app. That said, having it baked right into Messages means that people will be able to use whatever keyboard app they like, even ones that don't offer a GIF search option. While a majority of Android devices will have Messages as the default app for messaging, some devices, like those from Samsung, will not and will still use Samsung's own default messaging application, which is why Google has put so much work into getting companies like Samsung on board with supporting Chat in itself. Carriers like Sprint are already supporting Chat with certain phones, in fact Google announced its partnership with Sprint on this front back in the end of 2016. T-Mobile, meanwhile is expected to support Chat sometime in the second quarter of this year. One last major function that Chat is going to enable is the long-rumored messaging capabilities from a PC, which you can see a preview of below, alongside a preview image of the group texting and all of the companies that have agreed to support Google's "universal standard" as of this month. As mentioned above there's no confirmed launch for Chat yet, but there's a chance Google may elaborate on it next month during Google I/O 2018.