Today, Google rolled out yet another product into their communications sphere called Duo—a mobile Video calling app. This is in addition to launching Allo, an app geared to replace the SMS feature of Hangouts. This event prompted me to take a look back and realize Hangouts is dying.
Google Talk launched 12 years ago. After rebranding with the most inopportune name, ‘Hangouts,’ and implementing true cross-platform compatibility, Google Hangouts became THE gold standard for free IM communication products. Sadly, things look a little different when you add Google Voice, Gmail Browser Integration, and Text Messaging on mobile devices, as well as constant slew of changes to the mix.
When Hangouts launched, it was branded as a ‘Suite’ of tools—IM, Group Chat, Voice and Video calling, PSTN calling, even SMS support was added on mobile devices. If you were to say this effort is an excellent strategy to build the Hangouts empire, everyone in the room would just nod and move on.
Enter 2 years ago, when for whatever reason Hangouts becomes an unloved stepchild and starts loosing features: Gmail Integration in browser, SMS, Hangouts on Air, Android Widgets have been neutered or killed off. One striking example was the forceful introduction of Hangouts as the SMS ‘default app’ on Android and the complete reversal within 18 months. Keep in mind that by default, Google enables auto update on their apps and thus in practical terms many people literally had to re-learn how to send text messages from their mobile phones in order to comply with Google’s product lifecycle ‘strategy.’
Luckily the update cycle on Google Apps geared for businesses is not as draconian; you can think of these as an LTS version. You could just as easily say this only underlines how inexplicably convoluted the portfolio is to manage.
As far as personal use goes, at some point we do have to make a comparison to Apple. Aside from the walled garden approach, which I personally can’t accept, the user experience with iMessage & FaceTime is VASTLY superior. You can literally pick up an Iphone 3GS from 7 years ago and it integrates perfectly with the latest iteration of the communication apps Apple provides. I know, I still have one and it works.
Am I going to replace all my computing devices with Apple? Sure won’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to. When the alternative is to constantly re-evaluate my communication platform with what Google’s developers want—you can see how this gets tiresome quickly.
There is no happy ending here, the Hangouts you know and love, is getting torn apart. We don’t know why it’s happening but we will miss it.