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Google’s Hangouts is good but not good enough

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I’ve finally gotten the new Google Hangouts app on my Nexus device. It’s good but I don’t think it’s compelling enough to use for the majority of Android users (not just yet and I hope Google moves fast to change that).

I’ve been trying this little experiment for the past several months using Android as my main mobile combo (the Nexus 4 as my phone and the Nexus 7 as my tablet). One of the things that I’ve found lacking on the platform is a great way to do messaging across all Android users.

After trying out Google’s new Hangouts app, I’m convince that it is not going to encourage other people to leave their current messaging platforms to use Hangouts. This post is my two cents worth analysis why this is so.

What’s out there on Android

After using Android for several months, there’s one simple problem I have with Android even on my Nexus devices — confusion for the ordinary user.

So, I’m an ordinary user and I’ve just bought myself an Android mobile phone. I want to be able to send messages to all my friends – whether their connected to the Internet or not. Here’s where the confusion begins.

The first thing I think about, besides SMS, is email. Imagine to my surprise that I have to deal with two apps – the Email app and the Gmail app???

With the new Hangouts app, now I have to deal with the Messaging app and the Hangouts app. What’s even more confusing is that there is also a Google+ Hangouts function. Imagine how you need to explain this to an ordinary Android user.

This gets better. In the US, when I want to make phone calls, which one should I be using? Do I use the Phone app or do I use the Google Voice app?

Choice is good but, this is not that situation — especially for your normal Android user.

I’m really getting tired explaining to people what their differences are and which one they should use. From a Marketing / Product Managing perspective, this is a total nightmare.

Keep It So Simple

If I have an Android phone, which is still basically a communications device, there are basic things I’d expect these days — whether I have or don’t have unlimited Internet access.

  1. Make/Receive Voice Calls. It’s a phone so I want to be able to make voice calls.
  2. Send/Receive Messages. This gets a little trickier. Messages could mean short types like SMS/MMS, chat. It could also mean long ones like Email. For the purpose of the article, Messages mean short ones.
  3. Send/Receive Email. Long messages that I can send or receive from friends and other people I want to communicate with.

I wish someone at Google would seriously consider making changes on the platform to avoid all the confusion it brings to the Android user. They could just make things simple by having a single app for each of the above functions.

For example, a single Phone app for making voice calls, a single Messaging app for short messages and a single Mail app for emails.

Google can just make the app have the capability to install plugins/addons to add features.

For example for Email, to be able to send/receive eMail from my Gmail account, I just have to install the Gmail plugin. All I need to do is click on the Mail app to access these functions.

The same goes for the Messaging app by default lets me send SMS and MMS. By installing a plugin, I can have additional functionality that lets me send messages to other people via the Internet, another plugin to let me do video calls and so on and so forth. Users can then choose which plugin app they want to use for such functions. These will all be accessible from the Messaging app.

What Hangouts need to do

The first thing I want is for Hangouts to be simply called Messaging. Messaging should be the central app on my Android phone. Hangouts can be an additional plugin that I can optionally install.

Messaging (w/ the Hangouts plugin) also need to be usable without having to require a Google+ account. Not everyone needs Google+ especially at its current form of being public in nature.

The Hangouts app must be able to do SMS/MMS. An Android user very badly needs a core Messaging app. The app needs to be able to let the user talk/chat with another phone user even if the user’s only means of messages is via SMS.

I’m actually excited and at the same time sad about Android as a platform because of the way user experience is being current handled. Openess is the “+” in Android compared to iOS.

Google needs to change the core. Imagine if there was a single Messaging Framework API where users can add plugins to let other apps handle their SMS, or chat, or MMS, or Voice chats… without having to leave the core Messaging App. This is what makes using Apple’s Messaging App on iOS. I don’t have to leave the app to be able to send a message to an iOS user whether via SMS or via the Internet.

Messaging plugins could even be extended to communicating on Twitter, App.net, identica and a whole lot of other services.

Invisible Technology

What I want is not something very easy to do given the current way Google is doing things. I remember a favorite quote from Martin Cooper of Motorola, the inventor of the cellphone:

Good Technology is intuitive, Better technology is transparent, Best technology is invisible.

 

Gerry Ilagan

Gerry Ilagan is into mobile apps and WordPress development at @speeqs. He loves to write about electronics, the Internet of Things, mobile phones, and #crazyideas.

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