Hands-on with Hangouts, Google's first step towards unified messaging
Lots of great new features, but this may not be the unified messaging service some hoped for
We've heard a whole lot about "Hangouts" as a headline feature of Google+ since its launch, but Google is repurposing that branding today for its latest group chat service. There was a whole lot of crazy speculation and expectation leading up to Google I/O about a unified messaging platform from Google, and unfortunately Hangouts just isn't that service quite yet. As if Hangouts coming to phones as an update to the Google Talk app wasn't a good indication, this is more of an instant messaging client then an all-encompassing messaging service.
That being said, if you and the people you talk to most are all-in with Google, this update just gave you a whole bunch of new features. Read on with us past the break for a little introduction to Hangouts, Google's next step in messaging.
Android Central @ Google I/O 2013
It's no secret that the original Google Talk app hasn't changed much in the last few years, and was well overdue for a visual refresh. Luckily on that front Google didn't disappoint. Hangouts has been rebuilt from what seems like the ground-up, and while it still keeps the minimalist look of Google Talk it adds a lot of enhancements. The main view of the app is a list of current conversations, listed by the most recent activity. A sliding panel on the right takes you back to the most recent conversation you had, or the contacts list if you have no conversations ongoing.
The conversation list lets two or more people converse with text, smilies, symbols and pictures (from camera or gallery) in a standard group chat fashion. Anyone in the hangout can tap the video call button to initiate a call with everyone in the chat, which will ring them whether they're on phones, tablets or a computer. Like many other group messaging services, Hangouts supports read receipts (see who has read what) as well as typing indicators so you can see when someone's about to chime in.
You can start new hangouts from the plus button in the top right of the app, where you can then add people to the chat via name, phone number, Google+ circle or email address. If you haven't gone through and integrated your Google+ account with your contacts fully, things may get a little messy in here with duplicate contacts unfortunately. For example my contacts listing has two options for "Alex Dobie", but it isn't clear which one is tied to his Gmail address that I can actually do a Hangout with. But as time goes on there will be fewer people with this legacy problem, and this may be the motivation you need to merge together duplicate contacts.
But that's it -- this app doesn't span into integrating SMS/MMS or Google Voice messages at this time, nor does it plug in with any other services like Facebook Messenger or Skype. This will only benefit those who use Google+ and Google Talk extensively, and have friends that do the same. Aside from a few quirks with getting used to a new app, the new Hangouts app seems to provide a solid service for those who are all-in with Google and don't mind staying in that ecosystem. For everyone else that was hoping for a unified messaging platform to rule them all, we'll have to keep on waiting.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
and AIM? seriously?
LOL, you're missing out 2013. There are things called Smartphones. SMS? What was that?
- No way to tell if contacts are online/offline (wtf?)
- You can't set yourself to online/offline/busy etc Just another half-assed Google 'the public will beta test for us' program.
2&3. The world's changed and everyone is always 'online'. You don't really care if your SMS recipient is online anyway. Plus it shows which message your friend has read up to, which is pretty indicative of 'online' status.
All done now.
A navigation nightmare.
Contacts with incomplete info.
Broken jabber interoperability.
Where did voice chat go? Please Google, don't kill Talk anytime soon!
Android ppl are ok..but what if iOS ppl who are trying to use hangouts and don't have google+ ?
Nothing can be done...then whats the point of mobile number confirmation
It looks like Google's download system for updating the app is broken. You can't update in the Play app on your device and going through the web interface is hit and miss with if it will update correctly. I was able to push the app from the web interface to my phone with no issues, on the other hand my partner is a totally different story! (FYI: identical Verizon GNex) They tried pushing the app via the web interface, which then confirmed that it updated, went to phone, still old GTalk (both when trying to load it and old icon). Even Play app shows hangout is installed. Tried redownloading via web: won't give the option since its "already been downloaded". Restart? Same result. Wont allow to uninstall any updates to app at all, only disable. Had to copy backed up version from my device over, which finally gave correct install notification (confirm I want to replace system app) and prompts accordingly for JB 4.2.2. Works fine after that. Second major problem: doesn't integrate and streamline into G+ as much as it should. Yes, you can message anyone in your circles and start a hangout from there as well. But you still have the G+ Messenger app and the Hangouts app that exists in the G+ app, both that run parallel with the new Hangouts and duplicates many of the same features (message anyone on mobile device, group chats, start video hangouts, transfer pictures, get delivery notifications). But then you can't reply to someone on G+Messenger except on mobile. Then to make things worse, if you tap hangouts in G+ app, it loads the OLD G+ version which explains why when being invited to A video hangout, they seem to be fighting as to which app should run. I was invited twice yesterday evening by the same group; first time I was invited New hangouts loaded and looked all slick along with chat option, I kept the invite to text chat only and allowed it to keep running. Was reinvited later and instead the old G+ Hangouts notification loaded with the video "call" like screen, when I declined that time,it dropped me into my home screen instead of being able to chat and say I wasn't available to video chat and continue with the text chat with the group. This feels like a very incomplete app that Google tried to do portions of to make it cross platform, but forgetting to fix some of the hooks in their own other apps to make sure there are no conflicts.
I used to like using GTalk years ago for its quick communication option and be able to reply anywhere (desktop, mobile,tablet), but then about a year and change ago GTalk fell off Google's own radar and I stopped getting mobile notifications when screen was off (even though I got it for others like Kik and Whatsapp, and not using any data saver options that could be the culprit). Plus the functionality seemed to be lacking like no delivery/read confirmation, and many lost messages into the void. Plus no options like picture transfer or real multi person chat. G+ Messenger came along, fixed a few of those issues, but added others, including screen off notifications as still being hit and miss. I think if Google wants to do the cross platform chat replacement, do it right: make sure the apps work as they are intended even if they have limited functions, don't have conflicting apps and links all around leading to other similar apps. Once that's done, they could easily just offer to integrate your SMS/MMS like FB offers in messenger for Android as a start and then add functionality from there. Its not like Google doesn't have access to android code to offer this. Would SMS integration be a Android only feature to start or even exclusive to Android? Maybe, but that might be what Google needs to do to compete: dangle the carrot with some features (chat function with hangout) and leave SMS integration to their own products. I know if Google offers to integrate SMS function in, you may even be able to SMS from PC or Tablet since your account is everywhere. (3rd party ones are hit and miss and Google needs to get off its butt and stop worrying about if they are overlapping system functions added by 3rd party apps. Just add features that brings Android to feeling like its from the future!)
1st: nobody is forcing me to read...But People like yourself are being unreasonable or only hearing what they want to hear when it comes to product roll outs... 2nd:Bitching is ok if there is solid reasoning for it...half of these comments are just stupid and if we are TRUE supporters of the Android community then we should understand that sometimes it takes time to come out with a quality product. Last a smart person would not like myself would not consider this an update...Its a total overhaul in their messaging system so rolling it out in sections and having some function not usable makes sense to ensure things are running correctly in real life application... sounds like your expectations are unrealistic...
Google Voice? Does not even exist outside the USA. I'm sure they will put some of the stuff in later. But it's a great start.
Messenger/GTalk and Hangout put together for Photos and Videos cross-platform and Desktop (mind the Chrome App). Some will never be satisfied. But such an early badmouthing post in the headline is not cool. Obviously you don't want Hangouts to be a competitor against WhatsApp. Now people using exactly that, with less security. Here is the chance. please don't ruin it.