Back in May of 2013 when Google announced the release of its new messaging app, Google Hangouts, the app seemed to be more of a cosmetic overhaul as opposed to an actual messaging solution for active Android users. But, a few months later in November Google rolled out a major update to its Hangouts app that finally allowed for android users to receive SMS messages through Hangouts instead of having to use two separate apps, much like Apple does with iMessage. Unfortunately, even though messages were all in one app hangouts messages and SMS were still two separate threads. Now Google has begun yet another phased rollout of its latest update to its Hangouts app, but does it finally address the many requests of its active users?
Initially after updating to version 2.1 of Hangouts everything on the surface will look essentially the same, but after some digging we find some new, and very welcomed, additions to the messaging app. One of the most requested features for Hangouts has finally been implemented in this new update. Now Hangouts will merge together Hangouts and SMS threads from the same person into one thread. Which means instead of having two separate threads for people you can find all your communications in one singular place making it that much easier to always be in touch. Although this is a great addition, Hangouts doesn’t always recognize when an SMS thread and a Hangouts thread is from the same person and refuses to merge them. After scouring the app there doesn’t seem to be any option to manually merge two threads together. Going into the contacts app and ensuring the recipient’s phone number and Google account were merged together didn’t seem to force the threads to merge together either. A little frustrating but hopefully something that can be addressed in a future minor update. In the instances where the merging works effectively there is a very clear distinction made between messages that were sent via Text (white chat box) vs those sent using hangouts (green chat box). The user can also choose whether to send each message to the recipient’s Hangouts account or to one of their phone numbers by simply opening the drop down box located to the left of the text box. Once a method has been chosen, that becomes the default method for that specific thread for the future until it is changed again. Another welcomed addition to the app is the ability to turn off notifications for individual threads as opposed to the entire app. By pressing and holding a specific thread to select it users are given three options at the top of the screen, one of which is turn off notifications. Once this is selected the user will stop getting notifications regarding new messages until notifications are turned back on.
Hangouts is definitely moving in the right direction and has implemented some great features in order to appease most of its users but it is far from perfect. Still missing is the ability to use Google Voice via the Hangouts app, which seems to be the next logical move for Google. Luckily it seems that Google Voice integration is coming soon. Hangouts needs to be that all in one app that ties together all of Google’s communication services and houses them all in one place. But until that comes we at least finally have a capable messaging app to address most of our communication needs.