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Wire is yet another reminder that Google Hangouts needs more than Chrome extensions

Wire is the latest new-chat-service-to-end-all-others of the month. It's very nicely designed (especially for a v1 release), is backed by one of the co-founders from Skype and basically is this week's media darling. And for good reason — it's a compelling app that's quickly captured the interest of those of us who get bored with app way too quickly. Is it the next Skype? Or even a WhatsApp? Perhaps another Slack, which quickly has become the go-to service for team communications? Who knows.

But today's release of Wire has made something even more painfully clear:

Google simply cannot let Hangouts languish with Chrome extensions.

Hangouts has had a rocky past — and competitors continue to pop up.

To be fair, neither the Wire OSX app (seen above) nor the Android app (opens in new tab) are anywhere near perfect. (A browser-based version is said to be "coming soon," and it's a little odd that there's nothing for Windows.) While there's a good bit of well-thought-out design at play, you're also forced learn some new swiping and a bit of unorthodox UX. Neither of those things are deal-breakers, though, even if they do play outside the box. We are, of course, on Day 1.

Google's Hangouts platform — birthed from the mostly dead Google Talk chat service — is much older than Wire, of course, though its maturation process has been a bit rocky. Many considered it too close to Google+, and indeed it's tightly integrated with Google's social platform. Hangouts' video chat has proven to be excellent, however, and it's not uncommon to see it being used in mainstream media. (Google's marketing and biz-dev prowess definitely stands out there.)

Complicating matters even further is the inclusion of text messaging in Hangouts. For those of us who use Google Voice it's a nice — albeit complex — option to have. But for normal folks, it's an unnecessary distraction, and yet another default duplication of services.

Google Hangouts on Android

While the Hangouts Android and iOS (opens in new tab) apps may not be lookers from a design standpoint, they're both more than functional. And Hangouts' integration into Android is a key reason we tend to fall back on it here at Android Central, despite also using Skype and Slack on a daily basis.

Hangouts as a service remains excellent. It just needs a better user experience on desktop and mobile.

But the apps are just good enough. Switch to a desktop or laptop computer (oddly, the Chrome OS experience somehow feels more natural), and the experience deteriorates. Quickly.

So why, then, are we still putting up with Chrome extensions on our computers? I get the dogfooding aspect — Chrome (and Chrome OS) is the future for Google, and it's a pretty good path to travel. But there simply are times in which a native application looks and performs better. And this clearly is one of them. (The newer Chrome "apps" for Hangouts clean things up some, but not much.) Fire up Hangouts from a Chrome browser and you're suddenly clicking all over the place to open current chats. Or, worse, to find a call window that's been hidden behind your main Chrome window and any number of other running applications. It's not good.

Wire is all of a day old, at least as far as we as end users go. It's just the latest option for communicating. And there absolutely will be others on the horizon. It's time, then, that Google not leave Hangouts out to dry.

47 Comments
  • The Hangout Chrome app is pretty good imo and you don't have to open chrome to use it. So if you don't like the extension use that instead. http://www.androidcentral.com/hangouts-chrome-app-released-chrome-os-and...
  • I tried the Hangout Chrome app on Windows. Once I figured out you couldn't put it in the system tray, I went back to the Chrome Extension. For those of us who don't like pinned apps, this is an EPIC fail.
  • It can be put in the taskbar, imo that's good enough for easy access.
  • Yes, I know it can. But I want it in the tray :P If you can put the extension in the tray, why not the app?
  • That is a windows-only thing. Try using it with Ubuntu. The whole system freezes and you need a full reboot to get it back.
  • I use it in Ubuntu.. it works fine, except for a white square behind the hangout floating button, but it's working fine for the rest
  • I like the Chrome app on Windows too. It works more like a regular program on the computer and is easier to help other people set up than the extension was.
  • And a reminder that not everyone wants a Google minus account, unbundle the 2 and I might have interest Posted via the Android Central App
  • Try it now. I got my folks Hangouts working on desktop and they don't have a G+ account.
    They seems to have quietly unbundled it with no announcement. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Such a crybaby. If you don't want to use Google Plus, then don't use Google Plus. Your whole comment and attitude indicate you don't actually understand what it really is.
  • Agreed. I really just treat Google+ as more of a login service than anything else, at this point. And it's really convenient to be able to log into websites with my Google account without needing to create a new one. If you don't want Google "using" you for data mining, then just set everything to Private and never post anything. Pretty simple.
  • I did all of that, but the fact that I had to go through that entire process is definitely annoying.
  • The big thing here with Wire, in my view, is it needs to set itself apart. So far it has done that job too well, being unavailable for Windows and not compatible with tablets, or phones with QHD screens. If they want Google to be shaking in their boots, they are going to have to ramp up their compatibility big time. Those who are most likely to be early adopters will be people on the latest and greatest QHD phones, those looking to move away from Skype on a windows OS, and those who have the desire for a multi-device experience and own tablets. Posted via Android Central App
  • This. Windows is far from as dead as everyone wants to believe. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You have a much more realistic shot of apple going tits up than windows going anywhere.
  • Downloaded... but no one on my contact list is using it....
  • If you want a really great chat, video and email application just try 'unseen' is a great way to keep the privacy and security in place. the website is unseen.is.
  • https://unseen.is/
  • Not available for any of my devices (Nexus 6, 7, 10). DOA for me!
  • Great article Phil. I installed it and have exactly no contacts using it. So I added Phil lol. Posted from my Motorola Moto G
  • In order for it to be a full Hangouts replacement for me, it is necessary to add a Google Voice style service as well so there is a phone number attached since I don't use regular talk and text anymore, just data and my GV number for everything. It seems like Wire isn't there yet in that regard, i.e. a full replacement of carrier talk and text like Hangouts is.
  • Hangouts in the Chrome browser for Windows kind of sucks. The way you maximize, minimize and close chat windows is a mess. Also the synchronization between my phone's app and the desktop is clunky. I like Hangouts overall. I like making calls right from my laptop by clicking on a phone number in a search result. I also like the option to send messages over Wifi when cellular connections are weak. I just wish Google would give it a Lollipop level make over. Posted via Android Central App with my LG G3
  • I hate to praise Apple for anything, but I have to admit they do messaging right, and Google needs to follow in Apple's footsteps. Hangouts needs to completely unify hangouts messages with text messages (like iMessage and regular SMS), and also needs full desktop/Chrome extension integration to become a truly legitimate competitor to what Apple has done.
  • Agreed!!! Hangouts really needs to figure out video as well. How come iMessage has zero issues sending videos but Google can't seem to figure this out?
  • They need to ditch the stupid fucking name as well. Posted via Android Central App
  • "Google Messenger" would make more sense IMO Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • You can do all of that in Hangouts already if you have a google voice number. It's way better than iMessage since it works on many platforms (except windows 8 phone). Whenever I work on my desktop, I text and even call people using hangouts (with my real phone number shown up, of course). When I go to library and borrow laptops, I can use any laptops, macs, pcs and still be able to use hangouts.
    In fact Google hangouts is make apple's idea of creating their own Apple sim becomes useless in my opinion. When the internet of thing or 5G reach to general people, then I think people only need a device connected to the internet and use data to call others, not through physical number-attached-to-sim card like it is right now.
    I forgot to bring my phone when I went travel for a week but I had my iPad mini with data with me, so I used Hangouts on my iPad to contact, make call to people for 1 week long. iMessage, the name says it all, for messages only...
  • I primarily use Hangouts via Chrome desktop to call people. The interface really isn't the best for that and the call notification (IMO kinda sucks as well).
  • Looks really cool!! But like most messenger services, it only works if your can get your friends to use it too. Posted via the Android Central App
  • agreed, while I am fine with it average users need something more.. tangible. Users are used to installing apps and having them in their start menu/app launcher.
  • What are extensions and what's the issue with an app using them?
  • Hangouts is already dead as far as I care. It's another zombie walking around in Google's ecosystem just like Google+. SMS integration has been nothing but a mess. Unlike Skype or even Wire, Hangouts does not do voice calls unless you live in one of those lucky countries where Google Voice is available and you're willing to put up with the hassles from GV integration. Oh and even then, you can only talk to other lucky folks with access to Google Voice. Thanks but no thanks. The video chat is nice, but Skype already does that. Probably the only truly useful feature of Hangouts, assuming you're into this sort of thing, is live streaming to YouTube. Wire seems promising but for all-around messaging, I still think Whatsapp and Skype are the ones to dethrone. Wire will never be a Hangouts killer because you can't kill what's already dead.
  • You don't have to use Google Voice to make a call with Hangouts, you can just as easily start a video call without the video. I even learned my parents to use Hangouts this way and it works flawlessly. In my opinion Hangouts is much stronger than Skype and Whatsapp, since it can easily be used cross platform
  • Yeah, it's obvious this guy doesn't use Hangouts. I can call ANY number using WiFi or data with Hangouts and the quality is fantastic. Makes the $30 Tmobile plan kick that much more arse. I can understand the frustration regarding availability outside of the US though.
  • Everyone can make calls and texts to a GV number since it works as a regular phone number. So there's no restriction to "people with access to GV".
  • Newsflash. America isn't the whole world!
    So there is quite a restriction
  • I don't understand why everyone hates Google Plus so much. It's a lot nicer and more useful than Facebook IMO. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why the hell isn't the Nexus 6 supported? Posted via the Android Central App
  • QHD
  • One of the reasons I was willing to leave hangouts for Telegram was the lack of a proper desktop app. (I had convinced my family to leave whatsapp for hangouts, they constantly complained about the iOS hangouts app but I didn't want to go back to whatsapp. Luckily I found Telegram, best of both worlds between hangouts and whatsapp)
  • I would say Google should buy Wire, improve it, replace Hangouts and finally have a solution that works like iMessage, but that idea is dead in the water without it being a default app on every Android device out of the box. Every manufacturer uses a different messaging app and although there are better ones out there, it's near impossible to convince some people to switch once they get comfortable with what's there.
  • The old Desktop Google Talk app still works for the most part. I have installed and it pops up with new messages.
  • I use Hangouts all the time and I think it's awesome, but there is one thing that it doesn't do right, on Windows anyway. That is notifications. Notifications! Godamn notifications. That's why I installed Pushbullet and turned on the notification relay feature. Much more productive now!
  • It's funny how hangouts is also the only app to NOT get the material design treatment either. What is Google doing with hangouts? Next-us
  • Tried the new hangouts app from Google, both on Chromebook and on Linux. But I reverted to the old one.
    The reason is that on one of my Linux boxes I use Chrome/Hangouts for private and non-work related things, and Sametime and Firefox for work related things. With the old hangouts, clicking a link in a hangout will launch a new Chrome tab. In the new Hangouts it will launch your default browser, in my case this was Firefox. So this was not working for me thus I reverted all over so I would not have multiple add-ins.
  • Nothing for windows? It is dead for me.