Primetime: Google’s Five Messaging Apps May Be Too Much Choice

This week, Google updated the Google Voice application and service. Along with the improvements to the interface, the company has bolstered the application’s ability to send and receive messages. In essence, they’ve added another application to their portfolio of messaging apps: including Google Voice, there are now five such applications for customers to choose from. Each of these applications offers a different perspective and many customers find themselves using two or more, especially as most are not directly compatible with one another. Let’s take a look at these five applications available for Google customers as published by Google.

The first application is Google Hangouts, which is probably Google’s most popular instant messaging client and has the broadest of feature sets. Hangouts was born from Google Talk, or GTalk, and allows customers to send and receive instant messages, images and videos to and from multiple platforms, including smartphone, tablet, Chromebooks, and desktop or laptop operating systems. Google Hangouts is built into the Gmail web browser interface. As well as instant messages, Google customers can also call one another using the Hangouts application for either a voice call or a video call, where it includes built-in conferencing features. The application can also be used to call numbers and most calls to US or Canadian numbers are free. Furthermore, the Google Hangouts application on a smartphone also allows customers to send and receive SMS and MMS messages although the application is not as elegant or optimized as Google’s dedicated SMS Messenger application. Google is improving the Hangouts application with a definite bias towards the enterprise or corporate market.

The next application is Google Voice, which though based around making and receiving voice calls, contains functional text messaging and the ability to share photographs. Google Voice is great for customers who switch between different devices and carrier numbers but want to use the one contact number, and also offers a handy web interface. Google’s Messenger application for the Android platform is the next one to consider, which is simply a high performance SMS and MMS client. Messenger includes the very basic ability to call the number you are messaging, but for this it uses the Android dialer application. Otherwise, the application has the basics covered: it’s for sending and receiving text messages.

The next two Google instant messenger applications to use are Google Allo and Google Duo, which were introduced in 2016. Google Allo is an instant messenger application that is incompatible with Google Hangouts and available for the Android and iPhone platforms. In addition to a thoroughly modern user interface, Allo also offers something unique: currently, Allo is the only way to communicate with the Google Assistant via a text chat service. The Google Assistant is an artificially intelligent computer that can answer in-context questions or serve up Google search engine results in a more human-like manner, such as answering what’s on at a local theater, sports team results, weather updates and more. Google Allo uses a ‘phone number to find other contacts but does not rely on this in order to send or receive messages. The ability to chat with the Google Assistant is a neat little feature that some users will find useful.

Around and about the same time Google released the Google Allo application, the company also launched the Google Duo application. This application is designed for video calling between either Android or iPhone devices. It too needs a ‘phone number in order to find another person, but relies on a data connection to communicate with the other party. And as with Google Allo, Google Duo is incompatible with the Google Hangouts service (in this case, video calling). Furthermore, customers cannot video call the Google Assistant to ask questions, meaning it is an application with one function. Google Duo has steadily been improved since launch in order to improve video quality, especially when video calling over a mobile data network, and the quality of video calling is superior to that of Google Hangouts. However, although Google Allo and Google Duo are considered cousins, their services are different and incompatible.

Instant messages are one of the more ubiquitous applications installed onto a smartphone and for many people, is the easiest way to reach somebody. Google’s five services seemingly cover all available bases, but with several being incompatible with one another, this means that we could potentially need to install three or four applications onto our devices to use the best of Google’s offerings. For example, Google Duo offers great video calling quality but only between two people and only from a smartphone: for a three or more way conversation, we need to use Google Hangouts.

For a time, Google seemed to be encouraging customers to use the Google Hangouts application as it offered almost everything a customer could want - text messages, video calling, instant messages and is available on the tablet, laptop and desktop platforms too. However, Hangouts’ newer and more glamorous cousins in the shape of Google Allo and Google Duo are incompatible with the Hangouts service and are unavailable on anything other than a mobile platform. Google has announced plans to improve Hangouts, for example it bought specialist video conferencing audio company Limes Audio and has stated it is to use this technology to improve Hangouts’ sound quality. It’s a shame that Google hasn’t added Google Duo’s ability to message the Google Assistant to Google Hangouts, or included the video calling software from Google Duo into Google Hangouts. Perhaps the company has plans to incorporate these technologies into Hangouts at some point in the future, but currently this does not look likely.

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About the Author
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David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.