Technology

Google’s 15 funniest flip-flops with Android, Chrome OS, and beyond

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Now you see it; now you don’t.

As any Android fan can tell you, Google’s become a bit notorious for changing its mind. One day, we hear about how some new app, feature, or idea is the way of the future and the answer to all of our pressing problems โ€” and the next day (or so it often seems), that notion is mysteriously gone and forgotten.
The best fickle flipples are when Google doubles up and does another 180 soon thereafter and ends up going back to the thing it initially sold us on and then abandoned. It’s enough to make even the most stable tech enthusiast bemused and befuddled.

With a handful of fresh about-faces getting added into the mix in recent months, I thought it’d be a fine time to look back at some of Google’s most memorable, amusing, and occasionally groan-inducing U-turns here in the land of Android and other associated apps and services.
So buckle up and grab a bottle of Dramamine, just in case. Some serious flipping-and-flopping-caused flabbergasting is straight ahead.

[Get fresh Googley insight in your inbox every Friday with my Android Intelligence newsletter. Tons of tasty tips await!]
1. Android: “Hangouts is gonna be Android’s single default messaging client!”
We’ll start with the biggest, floppiest flip of all: the mess of Google’s ever-evolving approach to messaging services, especially as they pertain to Android.
After a long and often-confounding journey, Google finally got its act together in 2013 and came up with a single unified messaging app for Android. Hangouts would be the “single communication app [for] users to rely on,” a Google exec said at the time. It’d handle instant messaging, SMS-based texting, and even internet-based audio and video calls.
At last! Android’s rusty old Messaging app was dishonorably discharged, and Hangouts started to serve as the platform’s default messaging application. Until about two years later, that is, when Google Messenger came along and took over the default spot โ€” splintering things back into a muddled messaging mess
2. Everywhere: “Google Messages and Duo are for casual consumer use! Google Chat and Meet are for businesses!”
Speaking of messy messaging about, erm, messaging, after many more years of complicated confusion and no consistent focus on a sensible messaging service strategy, Google got its act together again in 2018 and settled on a new approach that actually almost made sense (if you allowed yourself to forget the past for a moment).
Ahem: Messages and Duo were the text and video messaging apps for consumers, while Chat and Meet were the group chat and videoconferencing apps for enterprises. Google made this distinction abundantly clear, with a member of the messaging team going as far as to create and share a handy chart that illustrated the breakdown:
But then โ€” well, y’know. By 2020, Google changed its mind about that and made Chat and Meet broad-use services, for both teams and individuals, while Messages and Duo remained minimally different variations on the same basic concepts.
And here’s a bonus U-turn within this U-turn: Last fall, Google brought screen sharing into Google Duo…two years after removing that very same feature from the app.

Cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.

3. Android (and beyond): “RSS is dead!”
Way back in the prehistoric era of 2013, Google made many of its most loyal users steaming mad by announcing the shutdown of its popular (at least in certain circles) Google Reader service. Reader was a tool for following RSS feeds from individual websites, which made it super-easy to create your own custom feed of info from the sources you cared about the most.

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