Over the last few years I’ve made use of more and more software services. These services have been delivered either through websites, desktop applications or a smartphone apps, but have traditionally been confined there: they are not interoperable across platforms. Even the ones that have been served on multiple platforms have not been well adapted to anything other than their original home.

Mobile instant messaging is an example of such a service, and has evolved as an uncomfortable hybrid of SMS and desktop instant messaging ideas, with ability to send media and video call being important features at present. There are a few popular examples out at the moment in the form of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage & FaceTime and BBM.

The problem I’ve had is that these instant messaging services just haven’t tied up properly.

WhatsApp is a prime example - it offers fantastic instant messaging features supporting all kinds of media and allowing spontaneous group chats BUT ties the user to just the mobile phone as a platform. No tablet version. No PC version. My use case is that when I am at my desk at work, or if I am sat at home with my laptop, I want to be able to use the keyboard to compose and read messages, and I expect many would find this preferential to switching to a completely different device to engage in conversation. In fact, there’s no good reason not to have a desktop client, and the presence of one would increase usage while still allowing people to use the mobile app when away from keyboard.

Apple is another guilty party with their iMessage and FaceTime applications. At first glance iMessage appears very promising: a data-based messaging service with good media support, and FaceTime offers high quality video calling, all available from phone, tablet or laptop. The caveat however, is that these must be an Apple phone, tablet or laptop, and while Apple may have hoped the exclusivity would entice people to join their party, Android handsets account for the majority of the smartphone market. The gated community approach cannot be effective, especially considering the current competition from WhatsApp and the slew of cross-handset competitors.

All of the other services make similarly admirable attempts, but ultimately fail. Except Google Hangouts.

Google Hangouts gets it right because:

  • I can chat to a single friend.
  • I can chat to a group of friends.
  • I can video call a single friend.
  • I can video call a group of friends.
  • I can use my browser, phone or tablet to do all of this.
  • I can view my chat history across each of these devices.
  • I can switch between my devices while on a video call.
  • It does all of the above well.

This simple list is why Google Hangouts smashes the competition out of the water. It enables users to communicate by text and by video without tying them to a device or brand. And this is important because as users we must aspire to better control of our data - we must demand access to, and be able to operate on our data from any device we choose. This is realised in Hangouts and by removing the constraint of platform, the model is set for any future service that wants to be taken seriously.

Interoperability has arrived.