For several years now, Google has made clear that one of their “classic” messaging apps, Hangouts, will no longer be available and move users to its newer apps like Chat and Meet. Though originally slated for 2020, this has been pushed back to late 2021. I know I was personally saddened about the future demise of Hangouts, especially since some features – like the avatar bubbles that appear below a Hangouts message to indicate the individuals who have seen the most recent message – have yet to find their way into these other apps.
Despite Google’s upfront communication about the coming end to Hangouts, what was not clear was how they planned to address the features in Hangouts for Google Fi users. Before the newer Messages app, Fi users who opted in were able to have their Fi SMS messages (as well as calls) accessible via Hangouts in a browser. At the time, this was really awesome as you weren’t dependent on having your phone on hand to send and receive SMS messages (or accept calls). Similar functionality was not widely available on Android (to my knowledge) and largely only enjoyed by iPhone users who also had Macs through the Messages app (SMS forwarding has to be enabled for Macs and iPads in order to send and receive SMS from these devices).
Normally, opting to use an alternate default SMS messaging app on Android involves changing the app and using the new app’s built-in mechanism to import copies of your existing messages into it. Very simple and not terribly painful depending on the number of messages. But because of how Hangouts worked with Google Fi, it was not possible to migrate away from Hangouts to a different app and bring your past messages with you. Given the known expiration date of Hangouts, Fi users for years have been peppering support forums and venting frustration in the lack of an answer to this important question of how to move their old Hangouts messages to a new app.
While there are likely many who did not wait to move to a different messaging app, Google has finally communicated how to migrate to its Messages app and bring your Hangouts messages with you.
Migrate to Messages
Per Google’s Fi Help article (at the time of this writing):
- Install or update to the latest available Google Messages app.
- Make Messages your default SMS app on your Android device.
- Once set as the default, open the Messages app, tap the the vertical dot button at the top right, and choose Settings.
- In Settings, tap Advanced, and then Google Fi settings (this screen can take some time to load).
- Choose the Google account registered with Fi to sign in to Messages.
- Once signed in, tap Sync conversations at the bottom to sync SMS, MMS, and Hangouts conversation histories.
A couple of FYIs:
- If you previously used Messages and turned on the ‘Enable chat features’ to use Wi-Fi or data for messaging when available, this needs to be turned off in order to sync with Messages.
- If you don’t want to use cellular data to sync, keep ‘Sync media only over Wi-Fi’ enabled (this is on by default).
- Sync can take up to 24 hours to complete. During the sync, you can still text, make calls, and check voicemail on the web.
- If you experience any problems with the sync, like messages out of sync between your phone and the web: Tap Settings Advanced Google Fi Settings Stop sync & sign out. Then, sign in and resume the sync.
- If you use Messages for web on a shared or public computer, turn off the sync when you’re done.
- If you transfer from Hangouts, you also back up current conversations from the Messages app to your Google Account.
- If you sync conversations, they’re stored in your Google Account and available from multiple devices.
Sync Experience to Messages
With over 20K messages (not including photos and other media) it took over 24 hrs for the sync to complete. That being said, recent SMS messages I had sent were immediately available from https://messages.google.com/web.
Additionally, messages were prominently placed both in the Google Fi settings of the Messages app and the web version that the sync was in progress:
You should also see a Messages notification as well:
And later on:
Experience & Wishlist
While I appreciate the web version of Messages, I honestly don’t use it all that often because the Hangouts extension works natively right from Gmail. This just makes it easier to access and respond as part of the daily task of checking emails. A Messages integration within Gmail would be a useful feature that wouldn’t require a separate tab or window to respond to messages.
Unfortunately for a me, a number of people I know still use Hangouts and so I can’t fully quit it just yet. But as a result, for every SMS/MMS message I receive I know get 2 notifications: one from Messages & one from Hangouts. Strangely, despite Messages being my default messaging app I always get a notification from Hangouts about a new message faster than I do from Messages. And while messages themselves sync between Messages and Hangouts (replying in one will still show up in the conversation on the other), your read messages do not. This is becomes tedious in Hangouts, as Messages has a quick ‘Mark as read’ notification option whereas Hangouts does not.
To summarize then, my wishlist for Messages would be:
- A native extension within Gmail for responding to messages.
- Chat bubbles to indicate when your recipient has read your message.
- Notification speed improvements.