Recently, Google announced Hangouts for iOS, a heavily rumored (and finally realized) iPhone and iPad application with a focus on unified messaging across different iOS devices, tablets and smartphones running Android software, as well as the web.
Contrary to what other dedicated messaging apps like WhatsApp and iMessage offer, Google Hangouts positions itself as more than just messaging. In fact, the app is intended to be a client to the Hangouts Google service, and Google has already declared that it is intended to replace GTalk (its popular chatting service) in Android devices. Of course, Gmail chat will remain around, but with this iOS app and the Hangouts Chrome browser extension that Google has released, it is clear that their intention is to have Hangouts be the end-all communications hub for Google users.
Let’s take a better look at how Hangouts for iPhone works, what are its weaknesses and strengths and if it lives up to its promise.
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Design and Usability
As is the case with all their recently-released apps such as Gmail (which we reviewed here) and Google+ for example, the design of Hangouts is clean and minimal. In fact, I’d argue it is too minimal. A clear example of this is the chat view of the app, which displays every chat bubble in the same color, making it harder to tell which message belongs to whom. Having a minimal design is great, but not so much as to hinder usability a bit.
Creating hangouts (groups of contacts to interact with) is actually pretty simple though. You just pick your contacts and you are set. Once created, you can start sending messages to each other and even start a group video session.
There are a few cons with this new Hangouts app though that might discourage some users.
To start, in a pretty annoying (but not unexpected) way, Google requires you to have a Google+ account to use Hangouts, so a simple Gmail account won’t suffice.
Additionally, you can’t set your status/availability within the app (you can’t be invisible, for example), something that has not been well-received among many users.
Also, in many countries some phone carriers are blocking group video chat, restricting it only to Wi-Fi.
The app’s settings are quite limited.
If you are a Google user and have been looking for something more than just a GTalk app, then Hangouts is definitely for you. The app is free also, so you have nothing to lose by trying it. However, be aware of its limitations. If any of these strikes you as annoying or unnecessary, then you should better avoid the app for the time being.