Facebook has released an update for their Messenger app, the stand-alone app that makes chatting with your Facebook friends more convenient. The updated app sports a fresh design that’s in line with the new iOS7 look and feel, but it also adds the ability to message anyone who has text messaging. You can access your contacts and message them, or tap in a phone number and send that person a text message as well.
Does this sound familiar?
Just recently, Google updated their stand-alone messaging app, Hangouts, to do a lot of the same things. With Hangouts, you can send messages to your Google+ connections, any of your stored contacts, or to any phone number you plug in that accepts texts.
So the question is, is anyone still using that old, tired Message app that came with their iPhone?
Of course the answer is yes, but where are we headed with all of this? In addition to messaging, the Google+ Hangouts app also supports video calls, as well as direct dialed phone calls to any number you punch in. Should Facebook integrate video and direct dialing?
If you recall, Facebook already tried that once. Facebook offered a video calling solution as part of their platform and reception seemed to be lukewarm at best. Have you ever used it? Neither have I.
When it comes to communicating with my friends and family real-time, I still tend to use the apps built-in to my iPhone: Phone, Messages, FaceTime. I use Gmail and social media extensively of course, but there’s an expectation for most people that messages sent via those mediums may not be responded to instantly. So even casual contacts and acquaintances are beginning to use Facebook Message and Google+ Hangouts to send me quick questions or comments, or to have a real-time conversation.
Which means that if someone wants to ask me a question, they currently have a dozen or more different mediums they can use to express it, and that of course means I have many different apps I have to monitor and potentially respond on.
A few years ago, we saw a similar divide and quandary being formed around pure chat platforms like Yahoo! Messenger, MSN and AOL and so on. You remember IRC, right? If you wanted to chat with other people, you had to set up an account on each of these platforms, but that also meant that you had to have two or more chat clients running in the background, or limit yourself to only chat with friends who used the same service as you. While I haven’t used it in over a year, I still have Trillian installed, that wonderful app that worked to marry all these different platforms and give us one tool to use to participate in chat discussions, regardless of which network our friends were on. But Apple eventually took care of that by building in support for multiple platforms into iMessage, and porting iMessage (now called “Messages”) to the desktop, giving me one solution for both chat and text messaging.
But that brings us back to Facebook and Google+, who continue to push their own chat platforms. They want us to chat using Messenger or Hangouts, and are giving us the option to include our friends who aren’t on those platforms via their cell phones.
So where is all this going? Will Facebook integrate more options to connect other accounts, or will Google+? Will we be able to use one of their apps to communicate with our friends on other platforms? Not likely.
Will a third-party app jump in and give us a single app for chatting with all our friends, regardless of which network they’re logged into? Unfortunately, I think the answer again is that it’s not likely. I just don’t see Facebook or Google+ giving that level of access to their API’s and giving up control over that usage.
Instead, it seems more likely that we will move forward with separate chat apps for both Facebook and Google+ and people will simply use the ones that they enjoy the most and have the most contacts – or just use both, as I do.
What may happen though is that these apps will indeed replace the default apps. But in order for that to happen, two things have to happen:
1. Apple has to change the very nature of iOS and allow users to set other apps to be the default. Even if I prefer to make calls using Google+ Hangouts, any incoming call is still going to use Phone or FaceTime depending on the nature of the call.
2. Apple has to allow these other apps to access usage history from the default apps. While you may be able to initiate a call or a chat via Facebook Messenger, you will only see a history of communications that you’ve done through that app. Unlike Message, you won’t see that unified history.
Obviously this is pure speculation, and Apple to-date has shown no interest in allowing other apps to be set as the default. The question is what the impact to Apple would be for making such a change. How many users would use Chrome instead of Safari or Hangouts instead of Phone/Message/FaceTime?
Ultimately, I think we will eventually get to a point where we’re simply contacting individuals – whether we’re sending some text or an image or a call or live video – and our devices will be smart enough to provide a single interface for communication. Not only will this help eliminate the need to have 12 different apps installed, but also eliminate the need to have 12 different identifiers. I have a cell phone number and an email address (multiple email addresses) and social media accounts and on and on. We already have services like XeeMe that are designed to help bring all those profiles and contact methods together, but it’s so early in development all they can do is display my accounts and profiles and information.
If you haven’t yet tried or updated the Facebook Messenger app or Google+ Hangouts app, I would certainly recommend them. They’re fun to use and convenient, and the more active you are on those respective networks, the more likely you are to be contacted by other people using those tools.
But I’m sure that you, like me, will look forward to the day when we don’t have quite so many apps and contact points. Would you agree?