Yesterday, during the I/O keynote, Google has released its heavily rumoured instant messaging client codenamed ‘Babel’ – called Hangouts.
Well, why would Google release yet-another-instant-messaging-client? This time, they have a unique approach to it. They want Hangouts to replace all the messaging apps they’ve made till now. It’s kind of surprising how it took Google this long to realize this.
Hangouts is released for Android, Chrome and iOS. On Chrome, it is available as an extension which sits in your system tray or menu bar, more like a native app. The mobile apps (Android and iOS) are very well designed and show a lot of detail in UI.
The Android app for example, lets you swipe to dismiss the conversations (like you do in Gmail). There are lot of small transitions and animations hidden here and there. When you send a new message, an ellipsis starts animating (or dancing, if you prefer that way) and shows that it’s delivered.
You can of course send images and there’s plenty of emoji. Group Video and Voice calling are probably the standing out features, as originally seen in Google+ Hangouts. You can also snooze notifications for a specified amount of time (there needs to be such a system wide toggle in Android).
But Good is not enough
So Hangouts works well on Chrome, iOS and Android. But it completely misses the most important feature – unifying all Google messaging apps. Sure, Hangouts replaces Talk and Google+ Messenger. But what about Google Voice (US-only) and more importantly, the (SMS) Messaging app.
Hangouts is obviously not available for less popular platforms like Windows Phone, Symbian, so it perfectly makes sense to integrate SMS into the app itself. So that you can SMS your friends who’re on those platforms.
That’s not the only downside of Hangouts, though. Hangouts doesn’t use XMPP, which is the widely used open protocol for instant messaging. But why should you care? Well, the number of instant messaging apps dependent on XMPP is mind blowing. I use iMessage for Mac as my default IM client, and Google Talk and Facebook Chat work perfectly. Because, both of them rely on XMPP.
Though it looks like Google won’t be shutting down Talk, leaving it for people who really need XMPP. Still, Google not respecting open web standards? Never expected this.
The sad thing for Google, is that, its competitors are doing really well. Facebook’s new Messenger app can do SMS. Heck, it even does Chat Heads – a really cool way to chat on your Android or iPhone. WhatsApp looks much better now with the flat Holo UI on Android.
The tl;dr is that, though Google has put some real effort into Hangouts, it is indeed going to be just another messaging app.
UPDATE: Some of the Google Fellows have confirmed that Messaging and Voice integration is coming to Hangouts soon. But here’s the thing: The fact that Google can’t ship a Messaging app with all its promised features (SMS and Voice integration) is what disappoints me.
Also, Google+ app on Android has got updated today, and it still has traces of Google+ Messenger in it. That surely tells that there’s a lot of work left for Google.