Hangouts 2.1 for Android merges conversations but further fragments the platform

Photo courtesy of Mike Dodd
The wait is finally over. Sort of. Mike Dodd on the Android development team just announced that the Hangouts app for Android will be getting an update this week, partially catching up to the update iOS received just under two months ago.

The Hangouts team is slowly rolling out version 2.1 of their app for Android. With the new update, there are quite a few changes coming that users have requested and some for which they will continue to wait. 

What's new?

The most important change is the introduction of merged conversations, giving you the ability to see SMS and Hangouts messages with a contact in the same window and switch between them with a tap. If you’d still like to keep them in separate threads (as per the previous version) you can turn it off in the settings.

This has been possibly the most-requested feature in our Google+ Updates Community since Hangouts added SMS support, and if Hangouts for iOS ever gets text message integration, the app would line up as a direct competitor to the iMessage service baked in to Apple devices. The only piece missing would be SMS support on the desktop versions of Hangouts.

The update also brings a totally new Hangouts widget to your home screen, which lets you scroll through your most recent Hangouts pretty much exactly as you would in the app. Tapping anything just opens up the app, but it still offers a resizeable, always-updated list of your Hangouts at a glance.

The app has also received several minor (but noticeable) polishes, including a green tint for messages sent by you, sleek animations when you scroll through your contacts and a new look for the Moods menu.
Certain adjustments also make managing your conversations easier, such as a preview of the number you’re texting directly in the text box (so you don’t get the merged conversations mixed up), and a clearly-marked message over images which no longer exist (instead of a continuous loading animation). When you start a new conversation, a new list of phone contacts will appear under the list of Hangouts contacts.

What's not included?

It might be a disappointment to some people that the list of updates ends there; this isn’t the Google Voice merger we keep hearing whispers about, so calling remains absent. Some unique features in the iOS app (like Stickers and video messages) which seemed like a response to even more messaging services like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Vine.

In fact, it seems as if Hangouts is struggling to deal with the very problem it intended to solve: make a universal, cross-platform messaging system. Between Android, iOS, Chrome, and the web, each Hangouts app now offers different features and different designs.

I have a hopeful prediction, though, that everything might come together when Google Voice finally merges with Hangouts in the near future - possibly at Google I/O in June.

What do you think? Which features would you like added? Share your reactions in the comments!

Source: Mike Dodd