Google is said to be planning to roll Google Voice features into Hangouts, its cross-platform communication app, possibly in time for Google I/O, according to a new report from 9to5Google. The Hangouts app got voice calling a little while ago, and also offers SMS integration on Android for sending texts to phone numbers, both of which had been Google Voice features.
The move makes sense not only because there’s already some overlap of functionality, but also because Google has been gradually turning Hangouts from a straightforward web-based video chat tool into a multiplatform chat client which supports text, video and audio communication, as well as rich media. Hangouts replaced the native Android messaging app for SMS and text in the most recent version of Android (4.4 KitKat) and it also previously killed both Messenger and Talk, too.
According to the report, it’s possible that Hangouts will integrate the ability to call phone numbers using a VoIP connection for free, the way that it can currently from Gmail on the web. That’s something that carriers are likely to oppose, as it bypasses their own voice service offering, but if it goes through, it could pave the way for Android devices that can operate as fully-featured phones with just a data plan, which seemed like one of the original goals of Google Voice to begin with.
If Hangouts eventually replaces the phone app, too, Google will have a pretty spare dock on its Android home screen, but consolidation makes a lot of sense in terms of the ways we generally user our devices these days (voice communications increasingly a rarity, sometimes required if text is insufficient). Apple, too, has been moving to a model where more of its native telephony features are housed in the same place, between both FaceTime and iMessage/Messages.app, so Google doing a roll-up and decluttering as well isn’t surprising.