May 24, 2014

The Future of Communication

The Google Voice + Hangouts Transition


Ah yes, after that last post I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to read something less uncomfortable this go round. But before I get into today’s topic, let me make a quick recap of what the point (overall) was for the prior post.




Essentially what I was getting at was that we’re living in a world of international communication and a smaller “world” where borders don’t really matter. The problem is that there is a conflict between what the old separatist ways believe and the actual reality of the situation. Ergo, we live in a world where culture shock exists and what is taboo/illegal one place is perfectly fine and acceptable in another. If we’re going to move forward with our technology and global connectivity, we have to address this at the root by finding an acceptable middle ground for laws as well as helping to homogenize/normalize attitudes.


Ok, so that’s out of the way... and that leads us right into today’s subject of the future of communication. I know it may be hard to believe that a prior post about the adult entertainment industry and age of consent could have anything to do with Google... but the underlying theme that ties it together is simply the implications of ubiquitous and global communications.


There used to be a time when everything was separate applications. You’d use one program for VoIP (Skype, for instance), another for Text messaging (AIM, etc), another for email (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, etc) and so on and so forth.


If you wanted to make phone calls, you had the local phone company for that and you’d have a “land line”. Sending SMS messages on your cell phone was it’s own service unto itself (and by god did the cell companies price gouge you).


As technology has progressed, all of these things have been moved over to a purely data service provider, but more curiously that each of those services are no longer in separate applications.





Take for instance the recent consolidation from Google to move all of the communications services into a single app, and that the same app is built into a social media system (Google+), which in turn is also interconnected across all services as a universal identity management and relevance dashboard.


This in turn interconnects everything that utilizes that identity dashboard, and brings all of those services and apps together so they can share relevant data and information about the person using them.


In this manner, for many years I’ve used Google Voice for a primary number and have had it forward calls on that number to a few other landlines and ultimately my tablet and cell phone. This is actually really useful as a service... As part of that, I also used another program on my tablet to connect with my Google Voice account so I could effectively make calls out from my tablet using the WiFi connection with VoIP.


So far, this is a great interconnection.


But alas, Google is transitioning and consolidating services into one communications system called Hangouts (which I don’t mind), but in that process things are still getting broken along the way. While that is the short term future of Google Voice, the obvious speculation is that at this year’s Google IO conference they will likely announce that the Voice Services have been/will be rolled into Hangouts as a ubiquitous all-in-one communications suite.


From 9to5Google:


We’ve heard that Google Voice is getting dragged to the trash can and most of its functionality will be incorporated into the G+ Hangouts apps on both Android and iOS. This has already happened to an extent with the ability to phone friends on Hangouts, but we’re hearing the full shuttering and depreciation of the app is the next step.


What’s interesting here is that VoIP-to-phones is expected to be integrated into the Hangouts iOS and Android apps so that, just like with the Web version, you could be able to actually make (and receive) VoIP calls directly from your Google phone number. Whether the carriers and Apple are okay with this isn’t certain, and the thought is that it could be enabled by carrier like Apple’s FaceTime (or could be scrapped altogether) depending on the global market and the carrier.


Google recently allowed Hangouts to take over the SMS functionality of Android phones, and as Android Police points out, the direction in which Google is trending seems to be pushing all telephony communications into Hangouts.




Minor Turbulence


When Google dropped XMPP functionality and disabled third party access to the Google Voice API, all of the apps on Android that let you dial out using your Google Voice number suddenly stopped working. The number one reason I loved those apps (and Google Voice) was the ability to just make calls from the computer or tablet directly.


However, now when I look at Google Voice, it just asks me what number (landline) I would like it to call in order to connect. So instead of just calling directly from the computer or tablet, I now have to have Google call a landline and then place the call from that landline to the number I requested. This essentially defeats the point of having a Google Voice number.





After all, why exactly would it be better to jump through the hoops of having Google Voice call a landline and then connect to the number I just tried to dial, when I could just as easily pick up the landline on its own and dial the number myself?


Effectively, Google Voice in this transition has been relegated to an overcomplicated program that dials your existing phone for you. Which essentially nobody actually needs...


That being said, I really do hope the trending is correct and that it’s just a stop-gap measure until they migrate all of those functions over to a unified hangouts app.



The Bright Side


That doesn’t mean, however, that Google Voice will wholly cease to exist in the coming months. They did say that as a separate service it will be phased out in the coming months, and that’s something I am fine with – in conjunction with the idea that they are more than likely to incorporate Google Voice directly into Hangouts as an All-In-One communications app.


Now, if I just have to open up Hangouts as an app, and it has all of those abilities built in -


  • VoIP calling
  • Video Calling (up to 10 people)
  • Text Chat
  • *VoIP –> Phone Calling
  • *SMS Text Messaging
  • *Voicemail & Transcription
  • *Call Forwarding
  • *Phone –> Hangouts Calling


Then I’m completely alright with this transition. As a matter of fact, that’s pretty much what I’m expecting to happen after the dust settles and the transition is completed. It’s going to get messy for awhile, and by god a lot of things are going to break for a bit... but I’m sticking around to see how it all plays out. But as 9to5Google points out in the image below, it seems like the very obvious thing that Google is up to right now.





The asterisks are indicating that those are things that Google Voice as a service historically has done, and so I’d like to see them rolled into Hangouts as an All-In-One communications app and service before I consider Hangouts as a comprehensive application for that. The last one (Phone –> Hangout Calling) is referring to what would happen when I used GrooveIP Lite on my Nexus 7 tablet (and still do) where if somebody called my Google Voice Number, my Tablet would also ring and I could take the call over WiFi through VoIP and GrooveIP as an app on my Tablet.


I could also call out via my tablet in the same sort of manner, pulling up a dial pad or my Google Contacts to place a call out to their phone using GrooveIP Lite. This is an extremely useful feature to have as a service, and so if Google weren’t rolling those functionalities into Hangouts I’d find myself pretty baffled and just a little pissed off in the short and long run.


Interestingly enough, the ability in that line-up would also be pretty cool if Hangouts itself (when you do voice and video hangouts online/mobile) could include people through their landline/cell phone to talk in the conference.


Rolling it all up into a single application makes sense, and then Voicemail & Transcripts get sent directly to Gmail instead of through a separate service. I already have Google Voice sending my voicemail transcripts and audio to Gmail so this seems like the sort of thing that they are very likely to be doing going forward.


In the meantime, the transition really sucks... as things get discontinued and broken leading up to moving it all together.


From my personal perspective, it would have been better to have started integrating the Google Voice features into Hangouts up front before cutting off Google Voice as a service. That way there would have been a better transition from point A to point B.



The Future of Communication




It’s a bumpy road as everything gets rolled into the All-In-One package of the future, and if they don’t roll Google Voice services and functionality into Hangouts, I’ll be seriously disappointed when they shut off Google Voice as a standalone service.


The future of communications is an app that can do it all, and is relevant across devices and systems. Whether I’m using my tablet, smart phone, Google Glass, smartwatch, laptop, etc... They should all just work together under the header of “Communications Suite”.


The Pebble SmartWatch (shown above) actually has been updated to support Hangouts notifications, so the bigger picture (I believe) is ubiquitous communications suite going forward.


I wouldn’t say for certain that’s what Google is up to with Google Voice and Hangouts, but it makes perfect sense. On the other hand, I think quite a lot of people will be left scratching their heads in confusion if Google just kills off Google Voice altogether and doesn’t integrate it into Hangouts at all.


But let’s be honest...


It’s far more likely that a place like Google, who is building a self-driving car and all sorts of futuristic gadgetry (GLASS, etc) is more likely to want to enable the Dick Tracy wristwatch than anyone else on the planet.


So I expect Google Voice just to be integrated into Hangouts, and then wearables to be able to tie into Hangouts (like smart watches) where the future will be essentially a more powerful version of Dick Tracy’s wristwatch. I would garner this thinking off of both the official Google blog post and the Computerworld post.


It’s just crazy enough that Google would do it in full force...


As stated in the Computerworld post:


Google's making no bones about the fact that it plans to merge Voice into Hangouts; this week's blog post, like the G+ hint before it, blatantly states that "Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice." The blog also notes that making and receiving calls via Hangouts is "just the beginning" of the integration.


The good news, though, is that Google isn't planning to shut down any of Google Voice's key features as part of the pending evolution. The interface and branding may change, but the road map currently calls for the service's core functionality to remain in place within the Hangouts umbrella, I'm told.



But what about that Dick Tracy smartwatch? It’s not so crazy or far fetched anymore. After all... Will.I.Am is already on top of that with the hardware (among a few other companies), and if anyone is keen on the future, it’s gotta be Google and the guy who is from the future :)


I just wish Google wouldn’t have had that broken void between ending Voice and Incorporating it into Hangouts... the choice of transition strategy sucks.






The future is so bright I’ve gotta wear hyper-reality enabled smart-shades...