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Just give me iMessage-like texting for Android already

by Justin Herrick | February 22, 2018February 22, 2018 6:00 am PST

Android and iOS are competing against each other as they have for years, but the differences between them no longer have to do with quality. Both platforms are filled with features, apps, and benefits that make them useful. These days it comes down to preferences. I’ve always preferred Android and have no plans to ever jump ship, but there’s one minor-yet-valuable thing I wish Google would lift from iOS.

iMessage will never make its way to Android. Everyone knows that, so it’d be foolish to ask Apple to put in any effort. But there’s no reason at all that Google can’t just give the people what they want.

Google’s approach to messaging has been far from clear. When something appears to be working, the company often ditches one idea to develop another. Android first relied on Google Talk in addition to a regular SMS/MMS app, and then the company replaced it with Hangouts. Unfortunately, we never saw Hangouts meet its full potential as an iMessage competitor, but at least it was known around the world and had a healthy user base.

In 2016, Allo entered the fray. It launched at I/O that year alongside Google Assistant but didn’t ship with traditional texting support. And the SMS/MMS functionality was pulled from Hangouts shortly after. Hangouts still exists, though, and today the company operates multiple messaging services simultaneously.

Ask a bunch of people with Android devices what they use to send and receive texts. Their responses are largely going to be that they’ve left traditional texting behind for an instant messaging service like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. If they do still embrace regular texting, it’s probably through a brand’s pre-installed app or a third-party app like Textra.

Sparking significant interest in Android Messages, however, is as simple as Google taking a glance at Apple’s playbook and implementing everyday features.

Those with Android devices aren’t begging for a direct copy of iMessage, though it’s hard to deny that would be nice. What I, as well as the folks who own the 2 billion devices based on Android, want is just to be able to swap texts between devices.

If you own an iPhone, feel free to laugh. But you totally have an amazing setup where everything you say on your phone goes with you to your laptop, tablet, and smartwatch. Android’s had workarounds for years, but I don’t want that. I want a natural solution to cross-device texting.

It’s annoying to constantly check my phone while working to see if I have any messages. The entire experience could be condensed into a single tab on a web browser, allowing me to view full conversations and engage with people without touching my phone once.

 

We’ve heard rumblings that cross-device texting is nearing its arrival. After the Pixel 2 launched, it leaked that Android 8.0 Oreo shipped with SMS Connect. It’s a hidden app/service that enables Pixel 2 owners to send and receive texts on a Chromebook. Then the plot thickened in early 2018. A teardown of Android Messages revealed that Google is working on a web interface that would sync messages between your phone and your computer.

Google does also seem to be interested in going a step further. Adoption of Rich Communication Services (RCS) isn’t on the rise, and various companies are split on the protocol to embrace. But within the latest APK file, there are mentions of texts over WiFi as well as other enhanced features.

Being able to text over WiFi is actually a pretty neat thing. You may not think about it often, especially if you have an iPhone, but there are places in the U.S. where coverage remains iffy. When I went to North Carolina and South Carolina late last year, I found myself struggling to get a consistent cellular connection. We’d go out to explore the area but I was effectively off the grid because of T-Mobile’s lacking service. If I could text over WiFi just as I can call, there wouldn’t have been much of a problem.

Rather than waiting for the industry to listen to one voice, Google should take matters into its own hands. It could flip the switch on a big update for Android Messages that would align it closer to the instant messaging services loved by billions worldwide.

Users wouldn’t be funneled to a separate service, which is good for both them and Google. Doing so just builds on Android Messages’ foundation to the benefit of a hungry user base.

The active campaign to get iMessage on Android died a long time ago. Apple won’t do it, and Android’s most loyal users probably wouldn’t want to get tied into the iLife anyway. We continue to push for a cohesive messaging strategy, though. Google needs to get organized, and that starts by slimming down on quantity.

With Hangouts dying off, it’s time for Google to go live with Android Messages 3.0. The new Android Messages would replace Hangouts both on mobile devices and on the web, enabling high quality messaging for everyone regardless of device. Then the artificial intelligence framework of Allo could get brought over because, honestly, not a single person beyond Mountain View is using it. Now we’d be looking at an Android Messages to be proud of.

It’s not like the omissions make me want to leave Android, but having cross-device texting and WiFi for backup would make me love it so much more.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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