Google is continuing to unify its communications mess today, with an update to its Google+ Android application, which among other things, finally kills off Messenger. Previously, Messenger allowed the app’s users to bring in friends into group conversations for text messaging, photo sharing, and face-to-face video chat. But now, Hangouts serves this purpose in Google+ and beyond.
At this year’s Google I/O conference, Google announced it was uniting Gmail and Google+ chat under the new branding of “Hangouts,” a then already widely rumored attempt by Google to bring all its communications efforts under one roof. Over the years, Google had launched a multitude of services for messaging and video chat, including Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and Google+ Hangouts, for example. The company began the move to Hangouts by launching a standalone Hangouts app on iOS and Android to replace Google Talk, and it offered an upgrade from Google Talk to Hangouts within Gmail.
But until now, Messenger still hung on in the main Google+ application, on both iOS and Android. Now it’s getting pulled out for good. Google says that all users’ Messenger conversations will be available for download later today, including text and photos, through Google Takeout.
Messenger’s removal is not the only major change in the Google+ app update. The company says that it’s also rolling out a few other top-requested features, including support for Google Apps for Business features, improved account and page switching, more location sharing controls (pinpoint and city level, by Circle), and access to Google Drive photos and videos. This latter upgrade between the storage and social services being another much needed integration. Pull-to-refresh functionality has also been added. Details on all these features were posted earlier today on – where else? – Google+.
Not everyone is happy with Google+’s changes as of late. Many reviews on the Google Play store report issues with crashes, while others complain about problems with the location service, following the shutdown of Google Latitude. Hangouts haven’t impressed everyone either – overheard at the TechCrunch office today for example, was this scoff: “the only thing that’s good about new Hangouts is the wider variety of emoticons.” Ouch.
Though Google has run messaging and chat services for some time, it’s lately been having to play catch-up in a world where mobile messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, LINE, Kakao Talk, WeChat and others from startups like Path, Snapchat, MessageMe, Viber, and more have found traction worldwide, with millions of users each in tow. Those numbers may still pale next to SMS, though. We’ve heard whispers that Google is far from done in terms of this communications consolidation, and may integrate Hangouts more deeply into the Android OS in the future (beyond just adding SMS integration), making it more like the Google version of Apple’s iMessage, for example – a great selling point for consumers, but something that could be potentially tricky in terms of Android OEMs who have been their own messaging interfaces and services (like Samsung’s ChatOn).
The updated version of Google+ for Android is rolling out now. An iOS update will follow.