I grew up in the 90s, which means I was around to witness the dawn of the internet and all its wonders. Communication back then wasn’t as easy as finding the person you want to talk to on Facebook, oh no. The early internet was fragmented and different regions used entirely different messaging services, which meant if you wanted to keep in touch with all your friends, you had to have all those messaging services installed on your PC.
I had MSN, Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ, AOL, Skype, Google Talk and a slew of others I’m probably forgetting by now. It sucked, having to keep so many programs installed and running just because I wanted to talk to people I’d met while playing games online or chatting. Then I installed Trillian, which is an app that combined all of those messaging services into one. Hooooly heck was that convenient.
Right now, Google’s solution for handling messaging for the average user is looking a lot like the early 90s landscape for all those competing messaging services. But at least those services were competing with one another. Google’s messaging services cannibalize one another as Google meanders down its course of attempting to find an iMessage solution in the wake of its upheavals.
Let’s take a quick look at all the messaging services that Google has released and buried in its relatively short time as a company.
Remember those old timey messaging apps for your PC I mentioned? Google had one of those. It was branded and re-branded a few times and the vestiges of what’s left have evolved into the Hangouts we use today, but funnily enough, Google Talk was launched as an open solution using the Jabber XML protocol that would allow you to connect it to any other app. It meant you could get your messages in an all-in-one app like Trillian.
Google Talk survived up until May 2017, when the last remaining users were kicked off the service in favor of Hangouts.
Hangouts has seen a bunch of iterations itself and Google initially pitched it as the service that would replace Google Talk as a better way to communicate. Initially, it didn’t have the ability to send text messages, but then Google wisened up and decided to offer that in a convoluted manner that no one asked for, making the feature essentially useless.
When people hated the way Hangouts handled its own internal messages and SMS messages separately instead of the iMessage-like solution, Google decided to remove the feature entirely. Now that Allo and Duo have arrived with their Google Assistant integration, Hangouts seems like it’s slowly being relegated to the back burner.
It was recently removed from the list of apps that Google requires to be pre-installed on devices that also feature the Google Play Store in favor of Duo.
Google Allo is the chat messaging solution that Google built from the ground up to be an iMessage competitor instead of being the left overs of a bygone internet era, but in typical Google fashion they managed to mess that up too.
Allo is tied to your phone number instead of your Google account, but it doesn’t have proper SMS support. It launched without multi-device support and had no desktop app, so even if you wanted to use it to replace Hangouts as your daily messenger it was impossible without giving up laptop and desktop use. The app is just now getting around to integrating with Duo, which is something Google took forever to do.
Instead, Google has focused on bringing Google Assistant directly to the user by allowing you to chat with Google to find contextual information for your conversations easier. It’s certainly a neat feature, but when so many foundational features are missing, it feels like a slap in the face to Hangouts users.
Overall, the launch of Allo felt half-baked and the timeline since release seems to agree, as the installation numbers for the app has fallen to speeds even a turtle could outpace.
Google’s solution to the dominance that Apple has over video chat with FaceTime was to launch their own video chat service called Duo. It received some neat features like being able to see what the person who is calling you is doing before you actually answer, but it suffered from a lack of interest because of no integration with Allo and an inability to make audio only calls.
Google has struggled to make Allo and Duo more appealing to its install base that is already comfortable with Hangouts, or rivals like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
Google Messenger/Android Messages
Google’s default SMS solution for Android has been renamed so many times it’s a wonder the app doesn’t have an identity complex. It started life as Google Messenger before that got real confusing with Facebook Messenger hanging around. Google decided to go with the much more succinct Android Messages and this is now the default SMS messaging solution for most stock phones.
So out of all the messaging services on this list, Google Talk is the only one that is truly dead. Hangouts isn’t going anywhere for now, while Google works on improving Allo and Duo to appeal to Hangouts users. Meanwhile, Android Messages is on the side, serving those who refuse to give up the old SMS protocol.
It’s an ugly side of Android that just doesn’t have an answer for those who might be considering switching from iPhone and want an all-in-one messaging solution.