Doing even the simplest-seeming thing on our smartphones can involve a lot of little moving parts. Information needs to be gathered from input sources, interpreted, passed to the right processes, ferried off to remote cell towers, routed to the right servers – and that’s just getting started. Every step along the way is another opportunity for things to go wrong, messages to get dropped, and lag to slow the whole process down. In the spirit of believing that simpler might just be better, Google’s rolling out a change to Hangouts on Android that aims to increase call quality by setting up direct peer-to-peer connections between users for both voice and video calls.
The big change here is that communication will no longer need to pass through Google’s servers. Google will still be helping set the call up, but then users will be sending call data straight back-and-forth between each other – hopefully allowing for more reliable calls, better use of bandwidth, and just a higher-quality experience all around.
This change isn’t without its potential downsides, and privacy is the big one you’ll want to think about. Without Google between you and the party you’re calling, they’ll now have access to your IP – something Skype, in contrast, just moved to hide. While there’s the remote potential for abuse there, most of us – just chatting with existing acquaintances – probably have next to nothing to worry about. If you’re especially paranoid, you could always use a VPN, though that just adds another connection to bounce all your data through.
Google’s new focus on peer-to-peer Hangouts connections comes just days after a new emphasis on moving users away from the app for their SMS needs; are we witnessing the start of a larger shift for what Hangouts does, and how the app does it? We’ll be keeping an eye out for further changes in the weeks to come.