This week I saw a demo of the best messaging system yet. One where SMS and non-SMS messages, all calls, come to all your devices automatically. It only had one major flaw. It's trapped on an iPhone.
The promised beauty of the new iMessage is that it manufactures the illusion that everyone you know is also using iMessage. Yes, their message bubbles are a different color (presumably so you can scoff at them) but other than that, it's an upgrade that makes iPhone users feel like everyone else in the world finally got an iPhone too. For those of us on the outside though, it's not nearly as fun. If you want to reap the full benefits, the price of admission is steep: A full fleet of Apple devices.
It doesn't have to be that way. Not at all! The solution is so simple that it's almost embarrassing. Apple uses iMessage the way it uses all its services: to keep you in its loving, hardware embrace forever. The counter-attack is a simple one. Steal it and make it open. And Google is the one company who can make that happen, almost overnight.
The pieces are there.
Google Hangouts was supposed to have figured this out already. In the lead-up to its announcement, it started popping up in whispers by the name of Babel, the universal chat client that could fix our problems forever. That wasn't what we got, though. And while Hangouts has made improvements along the way, it's still not everything that it could and should be. All the ingredients are there, though, just waiting to be mixed together.
Google's Hangout app is already in the hands of millions of Android users. Ever since Google made the switch to replace the old, boring "messaging" with Hangouts on newer phones, Android users everywhere have been enlisted into the ecosystem the same way iPhone users are by default iMessage users. And even those who don't actively use Hangouts for whatever reason—folks with ancient and/or Samsung phones—still have accounts waiting for them through the Google Account they logged in with, that @gmail.com address that everybody has.
The texting part? Uhhhh, Google Voice, anyone? I've long called for the unremitting death of the lifeless corpse that is Google Voice so that its powers can be melded into Hangouts proper, and now is the time! Google Voice already offers the same wonderful texts-on-your-computer features that iMessage is stepping up to, the only problem is that they're trapped in a service that sucks.