In perhaps something of an unusual twist, Google (News - Alert) has brought in a new feature to its Hangouts app, specifically, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) voice calling capability. While this by itself really isn't that unusual, the overall rollout strategy may raise an eyebrow or two, particularly since Google brought the VoIP feature to iOS before bringing said feature to the Android (News - Alert) edition.
While the addition of a new feature is commonly a welcome development, the addition of VoIP functionality to Hangouts is likely to prove even more welcome than normal. With the VoIP functionality comes new voice call support that allows for free calls to be made to both the United States and Canada by using a user's Google Voice number. International calls—at least, to other nations than Canada—are available at standard rates using Google Voice credit. However, it's important to note that using the VoIP connectivity through Hangouts will use data minutes instead of voice minutes—the number typed in is sent to Google, who then calls the number and connects the parties involved—so it's worth considering carefully if no Wi-Fi source is around.
Meanwhile, as for when the new feature will make it to Google's own Android system, there's no word on that as yet. Some are expecting the jump to be made when Android 4.4—KitKat for those who prefer the sugary subtitle—makes its appearance, but there's nothing definite on that as yet. Add to this reports that suggest Hangouts may end up with SMS and MMS functions, and a larger presence comes into view that suggests Hangouts may eventually end up as a full communications platform. Vic Gundotra actually had some remarks for put-off Android users, saying “Guys, don't worry. We have massive investment in Android. I promise you will be happy soon. Don't get upset because we show some love to Google users who use iOS. There are a lot of them. And they are good people.”
Yet by like token—Gundotra's placating commentary aside—this development actually makes some sense. Google on Android is a more robust presence overall, not to mention the connections to Chrome, which has much better access to the Web-based real time communications (WebRTC) protocol. So why would Google be in a hurry to add VoIP functionality to Hangouts when Google can already basically offer something similar through WebRTC? Reports suggest that Safari is lagging behind in terms of WebRTC, so it does make some sense, in a certain light, to bring VoIP functionality to Hangouts on iOS, as iOS likely wouldn't have WebRTC anyway. That could even potentially be part of what Gundotra was talking about when he said “you will be happy soon.”
Still, for the time being, the point remains. Hangouts on iOS will have a function that, for at least a while, its Android counterpart won't. But that should be changing in rapid fashion, and may well have a change that no one will necessarily see coming.
Edited by Blaise McNamee