According to a report from Android Police, as part of their teardown of the update to Android Messages, it appears as if Google is readying a number of features to have it mimic the most popular features of iMessage, including using a web interface, as well as offering mobile payments directly in the app itself.
The full report on the teardown can be found here, but in brief, it looks like Google is moving into a direction where Android Messages can handle some of the more requested (and often envied) features of iMessage, foremost of which is the ability to read and respond to messages via a web client in just about any browser. Similar to how this is handled in WhatsApp, it looks like Google will direct Android Messages users to a specific web page on their browser, scan a barcode, and then have the ability to use that browser page to see, read, and respond to messages direct from your computer, but then sent back to the sender using the phone’s app. When implemented correctly, its a great solution and one that many Android users have been clamoring for for a very long time. There are other 3rd party apps that do this (I use Pushbullet for example) but native support is almost always a better solution.
In addition, there are strings that talk of “business payment” support in the app, as well as some “enhanced” chat features, like the ability to send text over WiFi, which are all supposed to be supported in the new RCS (Rich Communication Service) protocol that will ultimately replace SMS for texting. Carriers had pledged to support RCS, but have been dragging their feet for a while on how to implement it, likely because they want to find new ways to monetize it. Google appears poised to bypass carriers entirely, and this also should be a better long term solution.
I’ve downloaded the new Message apk and will be playing around with it, but most of this is set for future support, and won’t have the awesome functionality we expect right now. We will be following this story VERY closely though, so expect more details as they are available.