Saturday, October 25, 2014

3 Things Google Hangouts Still Needs to be Better than Skype

Google has recently unveiled a new Chrome App for Hangouts. It isn’t a replacement for the previous extension, but rather an app in its own right. Though it was clearly made for Chrome OS, the app behaves well on all platforms, with a few minor bugs and some graphical hiccups on Linux.

As a messaging platform, Hangouts is great. Amazing even. The app is now a lightweight messenger that sits in the corner being pretty, or behind your windows if you prefer that. It runs smoothly and none of the bugs I’ve found have stopped it from functioning.

Yet, Skype has been around for a while. Despite frequent freezes, not receiving messages and generally being a little pita, it is mostly ubiquitous. Everyone is using Skype, but ever since the Hangouts app came out I’ve noticed people who usually didn’t pay attention to it actually using it.
This makes me believe Hangouts is well positioned to become a great alternative to Skype that people actually use, so here are 3 features Hangouts needs to be better than Skype.

  1. Voice-only chat

This is a big one. Skype’s strength doesn’t lie so much in its IM capabilities, but in its calls. Skype allows you to make conference calls but also free over the internet voice calls. Hangouts, while the video conferencing is the best free solution there is, doesn’t allow you to make a voice only call without messing around with your setup. One way to do it is to start a normal hangout and disable both cameras, but leave the microphone on.

As if that wasn’t enough, doing a video hangout relies on a browser tab being open, which isn’t really conducive to, say, talking with a family member while you’re trying to game. 

It would be much better if you could start a voice hangout that stayed with the small chat window, unintrusively sending voice back and forth.

  1. Minimize to Tray

One of the best features of all IM applications is the capacity of being as out of the way as you would like them. In this Hangouts fails spectacularly. While the floating ‘chatheads’ aren’t intrusive, the constant presence in the user’s task bar clutters the working environment. 

Like Skype, Hangouts should have an option to hide itself in the system tray, out of the way of the applications the user actually needs to pay attention to.

  1. Better Customization

It’s fluff, but fluff is fun. Hangouts is sorely lacking in customization. With Skype you can have two different views (default and compact), decide how new messages are received, what sound plays, whether or not there’s a popup, whether you want smileys or not. These small things help to endear users to your platform. Besides, puddings are cute, but text is universal. :)

I like the new Hangouts. There are still plenty of edges to file down and a lot of polishing to do. I’m hoping the team behind Hangouts will step up to the challenge and make Hangouts the amazing chatting platform I know it can be.