That's it. I'm done. I've finally stopped using Hangouts. The trusty messaging service I've used every day since it was originally Google Talk, and stuck with through several product name and platform iterations, is no longer a part of my regular group of messaging services. And all it took to finally switch over was a few weeks on WhatsApp — and now I'm wondering what took me so long.
This honestly shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Google seems to have effectively put Hangouts on the back burner — the apps and websites are effectively unchanged for years now, and no new features have been added in just as long. Google has finally provided information for the migration of G Suite customers from "classic" Hangouts to newer products, and it doesn't seem like the consumer version is far behind.
Hangouts as a consistent back-end service is still rock solid, and it's been around for so long at this point, that it's reached a sort of "infrastructure" status — and that has kept it in our consciousness for long past its prime as an actually good messaging service. Its apps are ancient, the web interface is a joke, and there are no proper desktop apps to speak of. Not to mention that all of the core messaging app features we all expect today — like photo and file sharing, location sharing, groups and calls — are all either nonexistent or years behind everything else.
So what has kept me on Hangouts this whole time? Well, it's a combination of momentum, and not knowing everything else I was missing out on.
You can't overstate the importance of conversation and contact lock-in in messaging apps. It doesn't matter how good a messaging service is, how nice its apps are, how well it works across platforms or what distinct features it has — if the people you want, or need, to talk to aren't on it, it doesn't matter. The same is true from the opposite angle, and it's what kept me on Hangouts — even though the apps and service are objectively bad, I had dozens of ongoing conversations with dozens of people that weren't going anywhere. It's a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem.
It took years to eventually transition all of my conversations off of Hangouts and into other apps — primarily back to SMS and Facebook Messenger for convenience's sake, and now things are funneling into WhatsApp. And making that transition, trying out other apps and eventually landing on WhatsApp, it gave me even more perspective on just what I was missing this whole time by sticking on the antiquated Hangouts. This is what a proper messaging app feels like. The app is fast, consistent, end-to-end encrypted, and has a wonderful web chat experience. There's seamless file, photo, video, audio and location sharing, built-in audio and video calling, and great group chats.
I actually enjoy using WhatsApp, after years of begrudgingly using Hangouts. And now it's finally also an app that I can use to talk to the people I care about most.
Sure WhatsApp has its own little annoyances. Having your conversations tied to a single device and phone number can be a headache, for instance. But I recognize that's mostly a problem for the tiny group of people like myself who switch phones on a regular basis. And some people aren't fans of the fact that it's owned by Facebook — I would prefer if it weren't. Everyone has their preference for what makes a messaging app great for them, and each will find critiques of all the apps they don't use; the important thing is that WhatsApp completely gets the fundamentals right, and is a great chat app overall, even if you don't like specifics of the interface or features.
But this isn't so much praise of WhatsApp as it is a condemnation of Hangouts. It doesn't matter what chat app you prefer, it's going to be more complete, modern and usable than Hangouts is today. Google has never given Hangouts the attention it deserves, and the service has always suffered for it, to the point where all you had to do to be better than Hangouts was simply make a modern, functional service with competently-designed apps in order to be better. When that's your threshold for choosing something else, you have a dozen great options out there.
Even if Hangouts does stick around, and Google does release a huge update with new features and apps, that doesn't mean I need to stay with it and punish myself with this truly subpar experience waiting for that to happen. I sure hope Hangouts gets better — but in the meantime, I'll be over on WhatsApp, with a high-quality service that I actually like using.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.