We all know that one person. That family member that just can’t quite seem to get it together. They always have excuses about how the world is out to get them and how you wouldn’t understand, because life is so easy for you. In the very fluid world of Google services, messaging apps is this problem child. And seemingly whatever the company tries to do to make it right never seems to cut it.
The Google Graveyard
Google as a company likes to experiment with a lot of projects. They will develop a product and put it out there, it’s what so many people love about the company especially compared to the calculated nuance of Apple software product releases. This willingness to create something new also means that the company is very willing to kill products in the middle of their life cycle.
There is even a website dedicated to chronicling all of the products that Google has launched and subsequently killed. While there is quite the range of services that have been killed by the search giant ( I was especially annoyed when Google Reader went away), there seem to be no other killings more notorious than when the company kills off messaging and chat services.
Just off the top of my head here are some of the Google messaging services that I have seen and used in my lifetime: Google Talk, Google Hangouts, Google Allo, Google Duo, Hangouts Chat, Hangouts Meet, Android Messages, and of course the countless Google apps with built-in conversation elements like Google Photos. Those are a lot of ways to communicate with people.
The reason that there are so many of these different Google methods of communication? Ever since the proliferation of Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s Messenger, Google has been searching for an answer to compete. Hangouts for a long time seemed like the answer. The app was able to handle SMS, while also being tied into a Google account so online messaging was also a possibility. But Hangouts didn’t have all of the cool stickers and animations of iMessage.
With that, instead of updating Hangouts to be more modern, Google took a different approach. The company decided to make a different app, called Google Allo that would be geared to consumers. The company would then transition Hangouts to being more of an enterprise tool. While Allo had the slick new design that the company was going for, a lack of SMS integration made it very much a non-starter in the United States.
While Allo was being slowly updated, Hangouts fell by the wayside and was shown to not have any sort of development interest from the company. Instead, the company forked the Hangouts brand to create Meet and Chat as two communication tools for G Suite users and enterprise accounts. Allo never really got the footing that the company was looking for and subsequently was added as another casualty to Google’s messaging graveyard.
The RCS Dream
While Google was looking for something that would help them compete with Apple’s iMessage, the company came to a realization. The concept of SMS was aging, and aging quickly. The system had so many flaws with its slow delivery, reliance on cellular networks, and very poor multimedia support. There needed to be an overhaul of the standard.
Seeing this, Google decided to try and hit two birds with one stone. By creating yet another messaging service and also changing the standard of text messaging, surely this would be the way all of its problems would be solved. The solution that the company came up with something called RCS or Rich Communication Services. RCS offered a lot of the same benefits as iMessage with typing indicators, read receipts, rich multimedia message sending, and delivery status reports. What Google did not have was a user base.
The way that this problem would be solved was by working with their carrier and device partners. What the company would soon learn is that working with carriers on a unified standard is a fool’s errand and nearly impossible to do. The reason for this is that carriers are all about differentiation, making their offering stand out from the pack. Therefore, getting them to agree on any sort of standard was not going to happen.
After months of trying to get carriers to implement RCS protocols, the company decided to do it themselves, not unlike what Apple did with iMessage. Moving forward, Google would turn on RCS in its Android Messages app on a per-country basis regardless of carrier. As long as the app was installed and the region was supported then RCS could be activated. This was a surprising move as Google has continued to refine Android Messages instead of abandoning it and creating a whole new app. Maybe the company has learned.
RCS has largely been a successful endeavor for Google, but there is more room for improvement. A tie into a Google Account so a phone number isn’t required would be a good first step. Also, a lack of encryption on this service is troubling for many people. However, the company has done well to create a competent web client that can be utilized on all platforms and has also integrated many of its core services like Assistant and Maps into the app, which is a nice touch.
The Facebook Problem
Google and Apple both have a struggle in the messaging department when it comes to adoption overseas. Here in the United States, we accept the fact that text messaging is the way we communicate with one another. Apple did well to integrate iMessage into their texting app and Google has followed suit with RCS in Android Messages. Across the Atlantic, there is a far different situation.
Since many cell phone plans in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East will still charge for SMS there has been a shift to internet-based chat solutions. More specifically, WhatsApp is the king of messaging internationally. The app is a must-have for all people in the region and using the default SMS app is unheard of. Breaking the barrier of this has been challenging and will continue to be a challenge for Google’s RCS adoption internationally. Facebook has taken a commanding presence internationally since the company owns WhatsApp and its own Messenger app is a staple across the world.
All is not lost for Google in this arena. An implementation of an account-wide synchronization is still a possibility. Leveraging this throughout all Google apps seems like a way to create some differentiation that other companies cannot compete with.
Untapped Google Account Potential
Consider the possibility of Google created a unified chat protocol based on RCS that applied in all Google apps and services on mobile and the web. Where a message can be read and responded to through Gmail, YouTube, Google Photos, and Google Drive. Instead of having all of these services using their chat protocols.
A unification based on a Google account. The framework is there for Google to make this a reality. Instead of having Google Photos messages and YouTube Messages being separate entities, why not have them all linked to the one Google account conversation. For whatever reason, Google has seemed to prefer a separation of its web services when it comes to integrations.
Over the last few months, some of this has loosened as Docs received integrations for Google Calendar, Keep, and Tasks. A similar model could be implemented to support messages. The great potential of this is that Google’s web services are already cross-platform, so this solution works for people tied into Apple and Microsoft ecosystems in addition to Google’s users.
Google has enough of stronghold on internet services that it is inexcusable for the company not to have a strong messaging platform. Google Messages can be the foundation of that, all Google has to do is avoid its old habits of killing off a messaging app before it is ready to blossom. Google can create a compelling messaging solution and the key to it is right under the company’s nose.