Google’s incoherent messaging strategy adds yet another bizarre chapter with the latest update to Google Hangouts for Android. Version 11 of Android’s default messaging app adds the ability to send video messages, but it removes the ability to display SMS and IM messages in a single conversation.
Hangouts video messages debuted on iOS four months ago, and now the feature is finally coming to Android. Users can record a short video clip and fire it off to a friend, just like a picture or text. To get the feature, they’ll have to give up a core messaging feature—merged SMS and IM conversations. Users can still send and receive SMSes with Hangouts, but each contact now can have two (or more) separate conversation entries—one for SMS messages and one for Hangouts messages. Hangouts used to merge all conversations under a single contact without worrying what protocol the message used.It’s unclear why Google is ripping a core feature out of its most popular messaging product. At the beginning of this year, Hangouts began suggesting users stop using the app for SMS with a pop-up message, so we were kind of warned this was happening. It doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then, though—Hangouts now has a big downside compared to iMessage on iOS. On the support page, Google recommends using Android’s “Messenger” app, which only supports SMS.
At Google I/O Google announced Allo, yet another Google instant messaging product. Allo seemed like a reboot of Hangouts, which itself was a reboot of Google Talk, but Google later stated that Allo and Hangouts would exist side-by-side, which will no doubt fragment the Google IM user base. It’s unclear if Allo will be taking over SMS duties on Android, but even if it was, tearing down Hangouts before Allo arrives makes little sense.
Hangouts version 11 is rolling out to devices now. You could always not update, but it’s unclear how long the feature will continue to work.