Google adds profile pictures from the Contacts app to the Messages UI
Google loves to add little things to its apps that might not seem like a big deal but end up being useful. The latest update to the Google Messages app adds the profile picture from the Contacts listing of the person you're messaging to the top of the screen. Tapping on the profile picture will take you to that person's Contact card. To make room for the avatar, Google removed the search function from the top of the display and deleted the magnifying glass icon. If you need the Search tool, tap on the three-dot overflow menu icon to find it as an option.
To be clear, we are talking about the Google Messages app which includes the Rich Communication Services (RCS) platform. The latter has the exact same features as the highly-touted (by iPhone users) iMessage platform. Both include end-to-end encryption, higher-quality images, read receipts, typing indicators, and more.
Google has tried to get Apple to include RCS as part of a cross-platform messaging app
Now here's the thing. What do you suppose happens in an RCS group chat when an iPhone user joins it? All of those lovely features go away which is exactly what happens when an Android user joins an iOS group chat. Yet, you never hear about Android users bullying iPhone users to the brink of emotional distress. And Google has been more than willing to allow Apple to add the RCS platform to Apple's Messages app. However, Apple CEO Tim Cook would probably prefer hearing his sink drip all night rather than allow a cross-platform messaging app to be developed.
Google adds the profile picture of the person you're messaging on the top of the screen
Also, and this is important for Android users to understand, RCS is available on the Google Messages app. It is NOT available on the messaging apps that your carrier might have pre-installed on your Android phone. For example, if you are using the Verizon Messages app, T-Mobile Messages app, or any other Android messaging app outside of Google Messages, you are not getting the RCS platform.
For RCS to work, you and the rest of the chat group must all be using the Google Messages app. You can tell if others you are chatting with are using Google Messages by the color of the text balloon that appears when you send a message. If it is a dark blue, you are engaged in a chat over RCS. Also, look at the text field. If it says Text message, you are about to message an iPhone user or an Android user employing a messaging app that is not Google Messages. Instead of using the RCS platform, such messages use old-school SMS.
RCS to iMessage chat at left, RCS to RCS messaging on the right
If the text field says RCS message, then you are messaging another Android user with the Google Message app and will have all of the RCS features available to you. If you don't have the Google Messages app on your Android phone, you can install it by tapping on this link.
How to join the Google Messages beta to receive new features before most of the public
The new Google Messages feature that shows the profile picture of the person you are messaging was spotted first by 9to5Google. To see the profile pictures you must be using version version 20230313_01_RC00.phone.openbeta_dynamic of the Google Messages app or later. To see which version you're running, open the Google Messages app and tap on your profile picture at the right of the search filed at the top of the display. Press on Messages settings and scroll all the way to the bottom.
The very last option reads About, terms & privacy. Tap on it and the Version info will be the first thing listed on the page that you are sent to. If you haven't seen the profile pictures on your Google Messages app yet, it might be available to Google Messages beta testers at the moment. To join the beta, go tot he Play Store, open it, and type in Google Messages in the search field. Once you see the listing for Google Messages, scroll down and if Google is accepting more beta testers for the app, you will see a button to press to join.
Even if you aren't a beta tester for the app, you should see the profile pictures appear on an upcoming stable version of Google Messages.
Things that are NOT allowed: