Words On Wednesday

Words on Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We’ve hit 4 weeks now.


Google Voice Hangouts integration

Google Voice is no longer the red headed step child of Google services, and that is amazing.


When I first heard the news that Google Voice integration would be coming to Google Hangouts, I was ecstatic. I have been an active Voice user since January 1, 2013 and I love having the ability to text from any web-connected device. I can start a conversation on my work desktop, continue it on my phone when I leave, and then pick back up on my tablet or Chromebook when I get home. There’s no need to always have my phone nearby, I can stay connected with anything.


Despite this amazing functionality, Voice has always seemed like the forgotten service that Google doesn’t care to actively support. The Android app felt slow, clunky, and unreliable. Messages would take a long time to load initially, and the app would crash a solid 10% of the time when I would open it. Updates would come here and there, but none seemed to change anything about the app. Voice calling was spotty, with an echo, and required another app to actually call. No MMS support and not even an alert for unreceived MMS messages often caused a miscommunication as someone would send me a picture that I would never respond to. SMS conversations were limited to 500 messages in any one conversation. If a text message went more than… maybe 12 hours without a response, the next message would create a new conversation. Despite talking to many people, my Voice inbox has 934 individual conversations. Top this off with the news that Google would no longer allow third party apps to facilitate Voice calling as of May 15, 2014. Google Voice was a service that is amazing on paper but practically terrible in application.


After Voice calling was dropped, I had all but abandoned my Google Voice number. Those who I mainly communicated with via standard SMS continued to use it, but I have given out my T-Mobile number as my main line of contact for several months now. I can’t rely on a phone number that doesn’t accept MMS or voice calling, as most people can’t use SMS as the entire extent of communication all the time. I knew that the third party restriction probably meant that Google would be taking charge of Voice calling, but it could mean that they were gradually trying to phase out Voice completely. If that were the case, it would be better to begin a transition away from Voice, rather than use it heavily up until it the entire service was scrapped.


Luckily, the former case turned out to be true. Google announced that Hangouts would finally support Google Voice and a new companion app would allow Voice calling through the Hangout app. I checked my app updates religiously, hoping to see that Hangouts would need an approval to update. That time finally came Friday night at Starbucks, and I nearly dropped my phone in excitement. When the update was finished, I loaded up Hangouts and approved the toggle to allow Voice messages exclusively in Hangouts. I sent messages to a few people via Voice in Hangouts and the transition went flawlessly. Sure enough, I received all Voice SMS messages through the Hangouts app. No more weird breaks in conversations, any messages to or from one person’s line of communication stayed in the same conversation.


Just to check all the possible functionality, I sent pictures to a few people and ask for a picture in return. Surprisingly, it worked for pictures that I sent to others, but I couldn’t receive pictures. Such a one-way functionality is strange, but it is progress. I would like to think that eventually, Voice messages within Hangouts can both send and receive messages. I do not know the hidden intricacies of how Google Voice works, but I can certainly imagine that a lot of work goes into making such things possible.
Overall, I am extremely happy that Google Voice received some much needed attention. It may not be perfect yet, but the new behavior stands head and shoulders above how Voice used to work. Voice calling is back, picture messages can be sent out, and everything is handled within the Hangouts app, the new hub of basically any messages I send. With an update like this, Google has proven that Voice isn’t dead. It may have been on the back burner for a while, but the support is still there. As I use Voice over the coming weeks, I’ll give updates with future Words on Wednesday posts with any new information.


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