When Google Hangouts launched in 2013, it replaced Google talk and Google+ messenger with a unified instant messaging app. It appeared that Google wanted to consolidate their disparate apps into one platform, even though Hangouts did not yet support SMS or Google Voice. A recent update to Android 4.4 rolled SMS integration into the Hangouts app, bringing it closer to Apple’s iMessage in functionality.
The company had also assured users that Voice will eventually be integrated into Hangouts and will not lose features on the way. However, there have been no updates on that front until now. Recently there have been several reports regarding the eventual unification of Google Voice with Hangouts. It is widely expected that the company will announce the change at its upcoming developer conference in June.
A major obstacle to the complete integration of Voice with Hangouts has always been carrier opposition. Many tech savvy users have been able to use third-party apps with their google voice pricing in order to make VoIP calls, bypassing carrier minutes. Naturally, telecom operators do not want average users to be able to make such calls easily. Widely regarded as a first step in mollifying carriers, Google had notified developers of third-party messaging apps that their apps would no longer function from May 2014 in October of last year.
Nevertheless, carrier opposition may not be as fierce as expected. User behavior has changed considerably in the last few years and consumers largely use their phone’s internet connection for apps rather than just texting/calling. This is why the majority of phone companies offer unlimited texting and calling while charging heavily for data. Combined with the upcoming launch of VoLTE, carriers may not care too much about Voice integration as they could already get more revenue from data.
Another factor which points to the impending merger of Voice with Hangouts is that Apple has already shown the way with FaceTime. Even though FaceTime functionality depends on carrier and location, it opens up several possibilities for a more powerful Hangouts app in the future. Some bloggers have even speculated that Google may eventually merge the default phone app with Hangouts, although it is highly improbable at present.
When Hangouts replaces VoIP, it is conceivable that any android device can be used as a phone simply by using a data connection, even if it doesn’t have a SIM card. It could very well signal a new era for mobile devices, one in which Google intends to be the leader.