Why Google Chat won’t fix messaging

Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess

The fact that they’re looking to fix Android’s messaging mess and not everyone’s messaging mess is why this will probably fail yet again.

Real-time messaging (be it SMS or real-time chat) is an absolute cluster, not for lack of innovation, for an inability to reconcile the needs of the users over each company’s own goals, resulting in some very draconian restrictions.

I’ve been using GChat/Hangouts for well over a decade, in daily conversations with my wife and family.  We have a basic set of needs:

  1. Enabled for real-time chat
  2. Ability to receive and respond to notifications across both desktop and mobile phone
  3. Group chat capability
  4. Ability to share pictures and other media
  5. Have a large user base and a lower barrier to entry for new users

Hangouts has been solid but also is neglected by Google.  Now their latest focus is to shift Hangouts for Enterprise use and deprecate it for consumers.  Supposedly they were steering everyone to using Allo, and I remember being very excited its pending release – and then it came and underwhelmed.  What made Allo fail out the gate was the fact that it was tied to your phone number and only one device, so you couldn’t use it from a tablet, let alone a desktop.  Over a year later Google came up with this jenky workaround to have your phone forward chat notifications to a desktop, but worked unreliably and required you to have the app open on your phone.  Given they hampered a key feature of Hangouts, it all but wrote it’s failed destiny and is why it hasn’t been adopted.

I don’t see much difference with Chat. From the article, it seems to be driven by whether carriers will pick up the protocol. That’s well and good to get Android the same features that iMessage enjoys on iPhones, but does little for anyone else on the desktop or using an iOS device. By limiting their goals, Google will once again doom themselves to failure.

I’ve looked a lot of other messaging tools, but each one has its own set of problems. iMessage is designed to promote the sale of Apple devices, which is why you won’t ever see a Windows or Android client (removing #2 and #5). Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp are all great apps with a lot of functionality but don’t have a big userbase and it’s hard to compel people to switch (with the caveat that WhatsApp is big for my international friends).  Facebook Messanger comes closest in terms of offering all the features, but feels really slimy and intrusive to use – and yes, I know that Google reaps the same benefits from inputting my personal information, but you’ve seen a lot more callous coming from Facebook lately.  Skype has been pivoting more into the messaging space, but they’ve had a bad spam problem and I’m not convinced people’s Skype contacts reflects all of their everyday chat contacts. The only time I go to Skype is to make a video call.

If Hangouts vanished overnight, I think I’d reluctantly migrate most of my activity to FB Messager.  It’s frustrating that Google is one few companies that has the clout and wherewithol to tackle this problem, but they’re hampered by their own blinders.  Until then we’re just confined to the ticking clock of neglected consumer Hangouts.

Is Google sneaking a keyboard into their search IOS app? 

I’m a third-party keyboard junkie. I always have multiple keyboards installed on my phone and am always shifting between them, especially when one comes out with an update. However, it’s been a while since I’ve had Google’s GBoard app on my phone,  or so I thought – but it’s still there,  masquerading under the Google Search app.

While I was playing with another keyboard, I went to enable it through iOS settings and saw that the Google keyboard was present. I didn’t think twice and enabled it as well. After a half day of playing around with it, I realized GBoard wasn’t for me and went to uninstall the app – only to realize the app was not there! I went through all of my menu screens to make sure I wasn’t hiding it somewhere, and sure enough, the GBoard is nowhere to be found!

Thinking there was some fluke, I reinstalled and uninstalled the GBoard,  only to find the Google keyboard ever-present my settings.  Getting suspicious I went and uninstalled the Google Search app, and bingo: the keyboard was mostly gone!

Out of all the keyboards that I’ve used, I’ve never seen an uninstall leave a bastardized version of itself in iOS settings. To confirm my findings, I reinstalled the Google Search app and as expected, the keyboard is back!

What is going on here Google?? Nowhere in your Search app description do you disclose that you’re embedding a keyboard.  Is this a sneaky way to get people to try GBoard or an insidious way to collect inputs from users?

This sets a very bad precedent in mobile apps. I am often leary of desktop programs that sneak other software onto your system during install, but this is worse,  you don’t even have the option to opt out!

I Came Crawling Back [What I Use]

I had been meaning to write a post for a few weeks now about how Verizon had been negligent in pushing updates to seemingly flagship devices.  After getting bait-n-switched as a Droid Bionic user, I went with the Galaxy S4 in large part that I wanted a flagship device that was seemly going to get some love when it came to system updates.  In all the time I waited for the Bionic updates, I blamed Motorola for their haste – but now I’m convinced that it’s really Verizon that’s the problem. They’re too busy loading all their crapware into these phones to be able to push out timely updates and ultimately were the last ones at the “Galaxy S4 KitKat” party.  However last Friday I finally got the update pushed to my phone and… it failed.

A support chat and a complete restore (from the software, not just a factory reset),my S4 was able to receive the KitKat update, but it appears that any semblance of my phone’s previous configuration was gone.  As far as the Play Store was concerned, my phone was a different device.

For most of my purchased apps that I restored; this wasn’t a problem. However, one app – EasyMoney – which I bought back in 2009 – wouldn’t work. I’ve used EasyMoney to track our expenses for the last five years, putting A LOT of data into it.  Back when I bought it, you would install the trial version and then buy an upgrade key on-line (which was $10 – lot in the early days of mainstream Android).  They serial number uses the phone’s ID to generate itself, which is how the key is tied to the phone. When I got my Bionic I got a new key from support, then got another one when I switched to my S4.  Now that I have my refreshed S4, I’ve exhausted the limit of only having 2 replacement keys. I’ll have to buy the app again.

I was pretty pissed. Any app you buy through the Play Store doesn’t have this problem.  I’m not sure whether Google implements a device limit on app purchases, but I’ve rebuilt my tablet so much and have never had a problem – yet HandyApps, EasyMoney’s developer has a draconian policy of 2 replacement keys?!?  My third replacement wasn’t even going to be a true replacement since it was on the same device.  I was pissed and while I should admit that I did not contact support (which I’m sure would have helped me) I wanted to protest the principle of the matter and take my expense tracking elsewhere.

I then went on a expense-tracking frenzy, downloading apps from the likes of AndroMoney, Expense Manager, CWMoney Expense Track, Coinkeeper, and easyBudget.  A lot of these apps packed some great features that EasyMoney didn’t have like cloud backup and sync, as well as having a nicer interface, which looks great until you start entering expenses into your expense-tracking app. A lot of these were a huge pain in the ass that would drive you nuts if you had to enter more than 3 expenses.  A lot of those apps wouldn’t have a field for a payee – which makes absolutely no sense for an expense-tracking app. Don’t you want to know where you spend your money?

Two hours and six apps later, with my tail between my legs, I was paying the $10 to buy the Play Store version of EasyMoney.  I’d like to think that I’m not too rigid to move away from an older app, but I can’t be the only one who wants some of these obvious things when using an expense-tracking app for your finances.

So yes, whether I’m happy about it or not, I’m using EasyMoney – which I liked so much that I bought it twice.

Google+ – the new tech unicorn?


At this point you’ve probably heard of Google+, their latest foray into Facebook’s territory. "Heard" is probably the key word, because so far very few people have even seen it. The invites have been slim, and after more than a week of being unmasked, I only personally know one person who has received an invite.

As expected though, all of the tech journalists and pundits have received their invites, and since there have been numerous articles, videos and podcasts touting the new service. People have devoted their entire shows to covering the new features and whether Google is a game-changer in the social networking space. I don’t blame the tech journalists for covering this and discussing this – it’s their job.

At the same time, I think that many of the pundits are failing to notice the disparity between themselves and the people they are supposed to inform. I understand the intention of wanting to give people a good perspective of Google+, but hearing these people get caught up in the excitement is only serving to remind me that the pundits are the cool kids, and we are not. They’re inside raving about the meal, while the rest of us are standing outside with our noses pressed against the glass.

Maybe Google may be thinking they’re carefully cranking the "hype" dials, giving the loudest voices the first access, but Google is walking a thin line right now. While people now seem excited about getting a glimpse, their excitement may turn into resentment as people’s patience wears thin.  One can only go so long only hearing about something without any chance of a glimpse.

My hope is one of two things happens: Google starts to open the flood gates on invites, so more of us "common folk" can starts to play with Plus, or that the pundits stop drinking the Google Kool-Aid and let the hype calm down.  Hopefully all of you that want invites will get them soon!

Update: It looks like Google is starting to open up the invite process. I was actually able to get in this morning.  Who else is in?

Done with Flickr [What I Use]

Well I’m trying to come back from the blogging hiatus that I’ve been on.  It seems that throughout my week all of these “That would be a great blog post” ideas pops into my head. I usually commit that idea to Twitter of simply let it evaporate – I’m trying to make an effort to get these back in the blog.  Thanks for bearing with me.

I got an email the other day telling me that my Flickr Pro account is about to expire and that I need to pay the $25 to renew it yet again.  I’ve been a Flickr Pro user for 4 years, and $100 later I have decided to throw in the towel and push my chips toward Google.

When I became a pro member in 2006, Flickr was one of the hottest sites around. Everyone was posting to Flickr, making it an awesome repository for photos. They released some pretty cool features to keep things interesting (I particularly loved their geo-tagging feature), but over the last couple of years Flickr has been pretty stagnant.  It’s funny because one of my RSS feeds I track is “Flickr News”, and my feed reader was telling me it was a “dinosaur feed” since it hasn’t been updated in so long. 

Along came Picasa. When they released their latest version that enabled the Person-tagging and facial recognition, I was hooked. I migrated my personal collection for 40,000 photos and spent hours tagging faces.  In some ways it became an addictive game: see who Picasa thinks is who, see who has been tagged the most (me with 3,161), see how big your list of faces grows (263 people).  Picasa (Google) was really smart because now I’m seriously invested into their program. Sure I can take my pictures and move onto the next shiny object, but then I would lose all the work I put into getting these faces tagged.

With Google enabling the people tagging into the web albums, the next logical step is to put my photos there. When you look at the storage options and see that 80GB of storage is $5 cheaper than a Flickr Pro account, the choice becomes clearer.

So goodbye Flickr. It has definitely been fun, but I think it’s time to move on.  I’m going to keep my pictures on Flickr and will see about updating what I can with a free account, but I’m putting another one of my eggs into the Google basket. Scary and lemming-like? Yes, but can you blame me?

Below I’ve embedded the first album I’ve uploaded to Picasa, our Valentine’s Day trip to Vegas.  It’s funny because I remember when Flickr wouldn’t allow embedding of slideshows for the longest time.