Google is said to be separating its chat app, Hangouts, from Google+ to make it a better-recognised, standalone product. Here are the features Google should add to Hangouts. Some of which we may even see at Google’s I/O conference in May.
Google Hangouts was originally part of Google+ (Google’s Facebook rival). It rolled every chat feature across the Google ecosystem into one, which was a huge improvement.
The Google+ app was (almost) available from launch, but Hangouts quickly became a separate app (but still part of Google+). Now, almost all Android devices have the app installed by default, but it grew further in importance when it was given the capabilities to read/send SMS text messages. It became the default SMS app on Android, as well as a messaging app across Google’s services (built into the Gmail & Google+ websites).
It’s a great app too, besides messages you can also exchange pictures, animated GIFS, video, audio and GPS locations with your Google contacts (via the Internet) or to phone numbers as SMS/MMS (via the mobile network). Those using Hangouts with their Google contacts can also run video or voice calls.
The thing is, though the Hangouts app has dual functions, those functions don’t seem to link together very well. Whilst a conversation between two people which jumps between SMS (via mobile network) and “Hangout messages” (via the Internet) is kept neatly in a single, continuous tab, there’s an important feature missing.
Hangouts doesn’t default to sending a message over the Internet (mobile data or WiFi) where possible, which means that people are still paying for/using up their texts. Sure, a lot of contracts now include unlimited texts, but, as ambitious at this may sound, I believe that one day the need for SMS and calls on a plan from a mobile network operator will be almost unnecessary. Every communication will take place via the Internet, relying on mobile data and WiFi only. SMS & calls may be just a secure backup option, or may eventually be removed altogether. Hangouts needs to contribute to this shift.
On Apple’s iMessage application for iPhones, if you’re sending a text message to another iPhone user, it’ll default to sending the messages over the web, so you won’t use your text allowance. It does this by registering a mobile number to every Apple account, if it finds a number is linked, it’ll send the message over the web. Hangouts should do the exact same thing. Every Google account has a phone number linked to it, so texts from Hangouts to another Hangouts user should be sent over the Internet, rather than as SMS, by default. It should be seamless, even for non-techies.
This feature has been one of the best that iPhone users have had over Android for a long time. If this feature was implemented, Hangouts would have an advantage over iMessage, because it is available on both Android and iOS.
Next, Google should make Hangouts apps, rather than Chrome browser extensions, across the major platforms. So, that’s smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Running iOS, OS X, Android, Chrome OS, Windows & maybe even Linux.
From these apps and websites users should be able to send text messages or run calls via both the Internet or mobile networks (by traveling via the user’s smartphone) in the same way that iPhone and Mac users can with iCloud, but also taking on apps like MightyText and AirDroid.
Lastly, for simplicity, drop the Google+ branding and launch Hangouts as its own product and merge Google Messenger (a completely different app) into Hangouts or delete it altogether. It was silly to launch this app, it just confuses customers without offering any benefits.
Push, Push, Push
Then, once it’s all implemented, make people aware.
- Have it installed by default on Android devices, mention it in the initial start-up
- Mention it in the next Android campaign
- Have an informative one-time pop-up in Google+ and Gmail
- Send out an email newsletter
- Advertise it on YouTube & through AdWords web adverts
Google has the ability to take on a range of services (including, most notably, Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, but also WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, mobile networks, and services such as Apple iCloud, MightyText or AirDroid) with one simple, accessible communications product. Mobile communications are a particularly hot topic right now, and if Google takes the right approach it definitely has the strength and skills to take leadership of this market.
UPDATE: It looks like Google Fi, launched a day after this blog was posted, is the answer to some of these ideas. Check out my blog post on Google Fi.
Image Credit: Hangouts Logo By Google [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (Modified).