Take a deep breath, Google Voice fans: Despite Google's plans to merge Voice into its new Hangouts chat platform, the service's key features -- call forwarding, voicemail, and SMS management -- won't be going away, sources close to the situation tell me.*
It's been a point of concern for Google Voice users for some time now. Google's been dropping increasingly clear hints that it intends to integrate Voice into Hangouts, with the message initially stated by a product manager on Google+ and then reaffirmed in an official blog post this week. Add in the fact that Voice has lied largely dormant for months, with no major updates and an Android app that's looking more and more dated compared to its Google-made cousins, and it's hard not to question whether the service is on its way to the company's infamous "spring cleaning" graveyard.
The answer, as it turns out, is both yes and no. Google's making no bones about the fact that it plans to merge Voice into Hangouts; this week's blog post, like the G+ hint before it, blatantly states that "Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice." The blog also notes that making and receiving calls via Hangouts is "just the beginning" of the integration.
The good news, though, is that Google isn't planning to shut down any of Google Voice's key features as part of the pending evolution. The interface and branding may change, but the road map currently calls for the service's core functionality to remain in place within the Hangouts umbrella, I'm told.
What's not immediately clear is how the merger will affect third-party services like OBi and Groove IP -- services that tap into Google Voice to provide phone-based VoIP calling from a variety of devices. Since Hangouts is not built around the XMPP standard, as the old Google Talk platform was, we don't yet know if those services will still be able to utilize Google Voice numbers to make and receive calls once the transition is complete. There is some info out there suggesting client-to-server XMPP support will remain in place, which has some folks -- including the developers of Groove IP -- feeling optimistic, but it's simply too soon to say anything for sure.
That possibility aside, though, it looks like the Voice to Hangouts merger shouldn't take much away from us. If anything, it may be a good change -- a move that reinvigorates a long-ignored product and brings it back to the world of active development.
* Yeah, yeah...I know. I'm generally not a fan of the ever-popular "sources close to the situation" citation, either. But occasionally, people who are -- well, close to the situation are privy to important info but unable to say anything on the record. This is one of those occasions. I thought the info was reliable enough and relevant enough to pass along.