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 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.
While the Hangouts Android and iOS 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.
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