Google effectively downgraded its Hangouts application from a core Google Mobile Services component to a mere option, contributing to its already shaky future. The tech company has replaced it with Google Duo and the change is set to take effect on Dec. 1.

The GMS is important because it constitutes the apps and services that Google requires OEMs such as Samsung, HTC and LG to preload when using the Android operating system. Currently, this bundle includes YouTube, Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps, Chrome and the Play Store. Google holds that these core services cover all functionalities found across devices and they work seamlessly to provide the ideal Android experience.

The news was first reported by Android Police, which cited an email sent to GMS partners last Oct. 5 detailing how Hangouts is relegated to GMS Optional category for telephony products. Handset manufacturers still have the option to include Hangouts when they roll out their own versions of Android, and Google is not keeping them from doing so. However, many of these companies also have their proprietary messaging apps and could, therefore, be unwilling to push another rival platform to its consumers.

All these developments are grim portents that could eventually lead to Hangout's demise. Google has maintained that it is not planning to trigger the kill switch, but that position is not written in stone. As the Duo and possibly Google Allo cannibalize its user base, Hangouts could find itself facing a wall. This can be aggravated by the fact that Google is clearly shifting its focus toward promoting and developing Duo at its expense.

However, Hangouts fans can find reassurance from the fact that the app, Duo and Google Allo all have distinct features that set them apart. Hangouts, for instance, is still great for collaboration, a capability that is yet to be seen in Google's latest messaging apps. The only problem is that new devices will need to download it from the Play Store.

Some observers are baffled by Google's decision to elevate Duo as its flagship messaging application. It is mainly a video messaging app and has fewer features than Hangouts or even Google Allo, which comes with Google's virtual assistant technology. For some, the move is being interpreted as a marketing strategy that seeks to help Duo get a shot at success.

If that is the objective, then Google has already succeeded this early. The app has been downloaded by at least 10 million users at the Play Store. It is also available at the Apple App Store.

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