By Nate Humphries | Tech/Science Editor Published: 11/13/2013 10:00 am EST
If you use an Android phone you’re probably pretty familiar with Hangouts. For those who aren’t, Hangouts is Google’s cross-platform messaging application. While online you can bring up Hangouts within Gmail or Google Plus and start a chat (general messaging), where you can also add emoticons or pictures or change the chat to a group chat or hangout (video chat).
The upcoming release of Hangouts 2.0 has garnered a lot of attention for a particular feature: SMS and MMS (texting) integration. While it hasn’t been officially released, you can get the APK file from Android Police if you’re part of the bold and brave crowd.
My Note II hadn’t received the app update yet, so I went ahead and forged ahead with Android Police’s file. Overall, I’m very pleased with the application, for a couple main reasons: simplicity and maintained integration.
I’m all about simplifying things. I just hate it when things are overly complex, especially in such a technologically-centric society where there should be plenty of options for simplification. So imagine my joy when I learned that Hangouts was being improved to become my one-stop-shop for all communications by adding SMS/MMS integration. (To be fair, iMessage performs similarly simplified communications for iOS. In some ways Hangouts 2.0 learned from iMessage, and in some ways it expanded on its capabilities. Side note: Hangouts is available on iOS devices as well.) Now I can see messages to/from my iPhone-using sisters and my feature phone-using father, mother, and wife as well as my Android-toting and Gmail-using friends and co-workers. It’s all in one spot, all together, as simplified as it can get.
Additionally, maintaining possible integrations is a key part of Android. Due to its touted open nature, it’s supposed to be a beacon to developers that they can create apps that integrate with core phone services, such as texting. For example, DeskSMS and MightyText both allow you to send SMS/MMS messages through Gmail, etc. I’ve been using MightyText for a month or two as a way to send quick messages through Gmail without having to whip out my phone. When Hangouts 2.0 was introduced, Koushik Dutta (a well-known developer with CyanogenMod, a great Android custom ROM) had someconcerns that it would break the ability of other apps (aforementioned DeskSMS and MightyText) to send outgoing texts, essentially rendering them useless. At least with using Hangouts 2.0 on Android 4.1.2, this does not seem to be the case. I already had MightyText installed and was able to use it successfully after installing Hangouts 2.0. However, the mess that Koushik mentions may be coming with Android 4.4 using Hangouts 2.0, as seems to be the case from what’s mentioned in an Android Developers Blog post. That remains to be seen.
There are smaller benefits to Hangouts 2.0 as well, such as location and GIF sharing. You can share your location directly in the chat window, and if you attach a GIF it will automatically play a preview before you send it as well as when it’s published in the chat window. Not the biggest deal, especially compared with SMS/MMS integration, but it’s still something.
I did experience one minor issue when using Hangouts 2.0: when you have Wi-Fi but no cell signal, you can still see that a message is trying to get through (which is great). Of course, it doesn’t come through until you regain cell signal (to be expected). However, if a group conversation was trying to get through the order of the messages can get mixed up, as happened to a conversation I was having with my family (see below; the left image shows the waiting messages, and the right image shows them out of order). Not a big deal, but something that needs to get ironed out. The big issue to keep our eyes on will be allowing other apps to access outgoing texting services. For Android to continue to thrive, its open source nature and connection with developers must continue. While Google continuing to add features and services to its existing portfolio seems like it would cause other apps to shrink in usage and popularity, one thing consumers love is choice. Many may flock to Hangouts 2.0, but others may prefer to stick with DeskSMS instead. Just because Google adds a feature doesn’t mean all the other parallel apps are automatically killed. At least not yet.
Overall, this was a great move by Google, and a long time coming. Apple should get major props for already starting that journey and possibly being a bit of the catalyst for Google’s move.
Simplification is great, and Hangouts 2.0 has brought us one step closer.
My two personal passions in life are technology and theology. If you sneaked a peek at my life you'd see me hanging out with my wife, our Dachshund Bella, and our snake Phoenix; playing Skyrim/F3/FNV/Rage/GW2/SR3/Civ5/CS:GO/L4D2; watching movies; reading on my Kindle Keyboard (sci-fi or theology research); or playing on my rooted Samsung Galaxy Note II.