Hangouts, iMessage and the Trouble with Overriding SMS

Will Android's Hangouts app replace SMS? Hopefully not.

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Two years after Apple set out to bury the text message with its iMessage service, Google is reportedly about to launch something similar for Android devices.

A report by Android Police claims that Google’s Hangouts app, which replaced Google Chat earlier this year, will soon be able to send and receive standard text messages. There’s a chance that Hangouts could even replace Android’s stock Messaging app, overriding SMS when possible.

It makes sense for Android to have its own iMessage competitor. People like iMessage because it allows them to chat with friends and family without being tied to their phones–iMessage works on iPads and Macs as well–and it can save money if you’re on a limited messaging plan. The magic of iMessage is its ability to detect when two iOS users are communicating, and to switch away from standard text messages without any effort by the user.

But in its attempt to be seamless, iMessage has its downsides. Let’s say you switch from an iPhone to an Android phone, but still use an iPad or Mac. Text messages from other iPhone users won’t show up on your Android phone unless you disable iMessages on all your other Apple devices. If you don’t have access to your old iPhone or iPad–say, you traded it in to your wireless carrier or sold it on eBay–you must go to Apple’s website and unregister the product. It’s not a terribly painful process, but how many non-techie users even realize it’s necessary?

Even if you’ve never owned an iPhone, there’s a chance iMessage can get in the way. Check out Mashable’s recent story about a Verizon customer who ended up with a former iPhone user’s recycled phone number. The previous user never unregistered his iPhone, so iMessage was intercepting the new user’s text messages, even though she only ever used Android devices. The only solution was to get a new phone number.

One other issue comes to mind: These services place another server between you and the person you’re talking to. With iMessage, outages can happen, and while the service is supposed to fall back on regular text messages when there’s a problem, users have complained that the fallback doesn’t always work properly.

If Google is planning an Android equivalent to iMessage, users could run into the same problems. From Android Police’s report, it looks like Google will at least offer a way to turn SMS on and off within Hangouts, so users can just avoid the potential headaches. Apple’s iMessage also offers an on/off switch. But that defeats the purpose of having the service in the first place.

Perhaps there’s room for a different approach. Consider this: If services like iMessage are meant to disrupt the standard text message, it’s already happened. Sprint and T-Mobile both include unlimited messaging with their standard plans, and unlimited messages are included with shared data plans on AT&T and Verizon. The days of exorbitant per-message revenues are ending, as carriers look to tiered data plans for more money.

The right approach, then, is one that embraces the reliability of SMS but adds the cross-platform support of a service like iMessage. Programs like MightyText and Google’s own Motorola Connect already do this by relaying standard text messages instead of overriding them with something else. As an Android user who’s no longer paying for every individual text message, I’d be happier if that service was baked right into the operating system, and into the Hangouts sidebar in Gmail. Whether or not that’s what Google has in mind, we’ll have to see.

6 comments
ThomasClarkson
ThomasClarkson

It appears iMessage also defeats it's primary selling point now.  On the Verizon network with an Android phone, an incoming text from Apple has to be delivered via some other protocol that requires a data download. The texting app first prompts to "download" the text of 1000 bytes in size.   Obviously this is some "data package" that uses the SMS protocol to pack up the proprietary data of an iMessage. 

So while they claim they are doing the world a favor by "saving" money leveraging non-phone systems to send text, they now incur data charges for text if you aren't an Apple user.  If you are in a desolate region without phone service relying on wireless, it doesn't save you money to pay 75% more for your device so it can be an Apple product, and doesn't save you money on non-Apple product to pay to download the data package to receive your SMS text from an Apple user.  The whole marketing pitch for the iMessage is a lie.


As I pointed out to @AndrewDarlington, this is not a technical requirement for Apples solution, it's bad engineering on Apple's part.  Using the search term "verizon sms vs apple sms" one finds their implementation details have created user dis-services (i.e. bugs they aren't willing to fix b/c it costs them money), and alternate solutions using standard protocols and services exist.


This elitist attitude of Apple is the antithesis of Western civilization and democracy.  We threw off the shackles of government elitism centuries ago.  Somehow private enterprise has found a new way to fool the masses into groveling at the hand that feeds and offer them perpetual indulgences to keep them enslaved to their "systems".  


Apple can't make any money in an open-source open-standards world. From their first days they've isolated themselves.  After 20 years of criticizing Microsoft for blind allegiance to proprietary systems that don't put customers first, they've become just like them: rich, proprietary, and close-minded.

Liquidrain7
Liquidrain7

The problem with iMessage is that it's not cross-platform.  Hangouts work on Android, Mac, iOS, Windows, & Chrome OS.  Why use iMessage when you can use something (i.e. - Hangouts) that will work on all of those platforms.  

AndrewDarlington
AndrewDarlington

imessage allows Its users to send and receive SMS text messages via wifi even when they have no cell network connection. For instance worker in a remote location that had no cell service But had WiFi access... all of my friends back in Civilization could still reach me via text me at my cell number. If I was that same worker with an Android device I would have to contact my friends via facebook Messenger hangouts or whatsapp or another app like it that does not integrate SMS text messaging with wifi text delivery. as a result anyone who texted me on my cell would not reach me until I was in an area with cellular service again.

I'm a big Android I have never owned an iPhone and I will probably never own an iPhone. and while I love Google operating systems I also think that Apple got it right with imessage. Its incredibly convenient.

ThomasClarkson
ThomasClarkson

@AndrewDarlington  It's called "email", works on wireless, goes through the same transport as you just described, and is universally compatible, contrary to the proprietary incompatible non-universal iMessage.  iMessage is just another tightly locked box Apple uses to enslave consumers into a proprietary system, using marketing hand-waving to make them think it's "better" than anything out there. Another poor technological implementation glossed over with slick packaging.

RichardSpatz
RichardSpatz

@YAZombie @ThomasClarkson @AndrewDarlington  


What Thomas Clarkson is getting at is that the main problem with iMessage is that Apple intentionally prevents it from being cross platform. From an end user perspective, there's nothing wrong with iMessage if you only own Apple products. You run into problems on anything that is not an Apple product. This is exactly what Apple wants. There is no reason in the world that iMessage couldn't work just as well as it does on iPhones, iPads, and Macs on Android phones, Android tablets, and PCs. Apple intentionally prevents compatibility and will not allow any third party to make a compatible app for non-Apple products, since they want to lock people into buying only Apple products. That is why Apple makes all of their technologies proprietary, often ignoring a pre-existing standard that is better or equally good. By making their products incompatible with anyone else's products, they force people to only buy only Apple products, and that's one of the reasons why they've been able to become the most valuable company in the world. It's all horrible for the consumer, but most people aren't intelligent enough to appreciate what's going on. Apple draws them in with pretty products that are idiot proof, and that's a good thing, but they intentionally limit all of their products so they can manipulate you into spending more money on more Apple products and services.


If iMessage worked cross-platform, then we'd actually be able to eliminate the text message once and for all. The only time you would ever need a SMS or MMS is when you don't have data coverage. As it currently stands the GSM providers can run voice, text, and data over their 3G and 4G networks. The 2G networks are only kept around and used for voice and SMS to maintain compatibility with older devices. Being that they can't get rid of the 2G networks entirely yet and they've already invested in the infrastructure, they might as well run voice and SMS over them to help take some load off of the 3G and 4G LTE networks. In the coming years, those networks will be removed and voice, text, and data will run over the same network frequencies, so there will never be a situation where you will have voice and text coverage, but no data. The CDMA carriers currently run all voice and SMS over their 2G networks, but that's also not out of necessity. Their 3G and 4G LTE networks are also capable of carrying voice and SMS, they just haven't put in the effort to set it up yet. In the near future, they will also be eliminating 2G and running voice and SMS over 3G and 4G LTE. Verizon has alterior motives for holding off on doing that, but I won't get into it here.


Google Hangouts has the potential to become the cross platform service that iMessage could have been. I haven't tried it yet, but apparently Hangouts for Android now functions the same as iMessage in that it will normally send Hangouts messages, but it will automatically send SMS instead to devices that are not capable of receiving Hangouts messages. At this point, the only devices "not capable" of receiving Hangouts messages are dumb phones and Apple iPhones, and that's not even really true. Google has made the Hangouts app for iPhone and it's compatible with all other devices of any brand or OS that run Hangouts. The only difference is that Apple will never allow Google's Hangouts app for iPhone to send SMS, so it will not work as a full replacement for SMS / iMessage in the interm while SMS is being phased out. There is no technological reason in the world that Google's iPhone app can't send SMS. APPLE WILL NOT ALLOW THEM TO ADD THAT FUNCTIONALITY because they are using iMessage to lock you into buying only Apple products. If they let Google's app send SMS too, no one will ever use iMessage again, and they will lose some control over your dollar. They will never voluntarily let that happen. It's not about what's best for the customer. It's about getting as much money out of them as possible. They have in the past and will continue to prevent technological advancements that could reduce Apple revenue from being added to their products. And now that they're such a major player in the tech world, that's bad for everyone, since whenever someone tries to develop a cross-platform service that would benefit all consumers, Apple opts out, and since so many people have Apple products, that prevents the service from being truly multi-platform and keeps everyone disconnected. Apple wants the only way for everyone to get connected to be by buying only Apple products. Making Apple products compatible with other products will only reduce sales of Apple products, and revenue is given priority over the user. 


Sadly, they've been able to brainwash the masses because average people don't understand how the underlying technology works. I think the blog "Cult of Mac" has a very accurate title.

YAZombie
YAZombie

@ThomasClarkson @AndrewDarlington

No, it's called a seamless system, that drives the messages you send either through the Internet if your correspondant can receive it, or through the mobile sms system if they can't. Try to send an email if your data coverage is insufficient, it will fail, yet an sms will go (that's a very frequent situation for me).

And by the way, it has been serving what? Billions of messages satisfyingly since its creation just a few years ago?

Your message is just another example of one of the favorite tools of the demagogues: make a mountain of problems that have actually, in real life, affected a handful of people, and even those hardly at that.