Leaked Google Hangouts text message support could come with a few caveats

After first being tipped all the way back in May, new rumors suggest Google will soon unveil SMS and MMS integration for Google Hangouts on Android. The new functionality means you can use one application for most of your on-the-go communication, with the exception of email and voice calls.

The new text message rumblings come courtesy of a leaked photo on Android Police showing off a purported settings screen for an upcoming version of Hangouts, which clearly shows checkboxes for integrating SMS and MMS functionality into Google’s unified communications platform. The settings screen suggests the new feature will be optional, at least at first.

The new functionality is expected to show up in version 1.3 of Hangouts—we’re currently at 1.2—but there’s no timetable for when the new app update might rollout, Android Police says. The Android-focused blog also can’t say for sure whether MMS video sharing will be supported at launch. The new app will, however, reportedly support video sharing over Wi-Fi.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole story is that Android Police’s Artem Russakovskii believes Hangouts will one day replace the Android SMS Messaging app altogether, at least for Nexus devices beginning with Android 4.4. Hangouts has already replaced Google Talk and Google+ Messenger on Android.

For the love of Pete, no

That idea raises a few big questions. How good will this integration be? Does it make sense to have your Google+ and Talk friends jumbled in with your address book contacts?

Image: Android Police
Leaked images of the alleged Hangouts SMS support, via Android Police. (Click to enlarge.)

Google hoped people would use Google+ to connect with people they actually knew. But the reality (at least in my experience) is that Google+ is a place where you connect online with people who share your interests, but you may not know personally—closer to Twitter than Facebook. People you trade text messages with, on the other hand, are people you most definitely know. So it may not make sense to mix the two.

Then there’s the all-important issue of where those Hangouts-integrated text messages end up. Will Google conveniently save all your texts to the cloud as archived Hangouts? Is that something you’d even want, and will it be easy to opt-out of that logging?

Adios, open standards

It’s obviously too early to say for certain, but color me doubtful. Over the past year, Google has slowly worked at reducing user choice when it comes to instant messaging chats. The company is already moving away from Google Talk, which supports interoperability with third-party clients via the open-source protocol XMPP, in favor of Hangouts—a private protocol that doesn’t play nice with others.

And even though you can still use Google Talk in XMPP clients and in Gmail, you can no longer stop Google from archiving all your chats. Instead, you have to disable archiving for each individual conversation, a move digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation was highly critical of when it was first announced in May.

“You can turn individual chats off the record [unsaved],” Google’s help pages say. “But you'll no longer have the option to turn chat history off for all of your chats.” The same goes for Hangouts. You can disable individual Hangouts archiving, but there’s no universal setting to stop all Hangouts from being archived.

All of this suggests to me that an SMS-integrated Hangouts may want to archive your mobile phone messaging, and it may not be so easy to stop the app from doing so.

But this is all speculation for now! We won’t have any real answers until Google (maybe) finally reveals Hangouts 1.3 in the coming months. Nevertheless, it’s worth pondering where Google might be headed with Hangouts—and whether that future means more or less control for individual users.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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