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Google retires SMS support in Hangouts, axes experimental Gmail features

Why it matters to you

If you use Hangouts to send and receive SMS messages, it's time to switch: Google is doing away with support soon.

At the Google’s HQ in San Francisco, it’s that time of year again: Spring cleaning. On Friday, Google detailed features that will be going away in the coming weeks as part of the company’s perennial efforts toward “streamlining” its products.

First to get the ax is text message support in Google’s Hangouts messaging app. In the next few weeks, holdouts will get a Hangouts notification to switch to another app. And starting on May 22, Hangouts will cease to send and receive carrier SMS messages.

Google is suggesting that users migrate to its text-focused Android Messages app. “We want to provide a consistent and easy-to-use SMS experience for Android users right out of the box,” a spokesperson said. “We’re focusing on making Android Messages the primary place to access SMS and are working with carriers and device manufacturers to include Android Messages natively in Android devices.”

Google notes that the shutdown won’t impact Google Voice users and Google Fi subscribers who use Hangouts for messaging. It has published a helpful resource with more information.

Meanwhile, Google Talk — the precursor to Hangouts — is shutting down entirely. Google said it will prompt Gmail users who haven’t switched to Hangouts to do so, and that the legacy Google Talk Android app, which Google replaced with Hangouts in 2013, will stop functioning by late April.

Google is also retiring a few features in Labs, mail service’s experimental collection of apps and settings. Authentication Icons, which identified verified (i.e., legitimate) senders with a “key” icon, are going the way of the dodo. So will the Google Voice Player, which provided an audio preview of incoming voice mails. The next to go are previews of Picasa photos and chat pictures; Quick Links, which provided fast access to emails and folders; the ability to quote selected text;  Smart Labels, which automatically categorized newsletters, promotions, receipts, and notifications; and Yelp review snippets.

Finally, Google is retiring Google+ functionality in Gmail. Beginning sometime in April, you’ll no longer be able to email Google+ profiles or use Google+ Circles.

Canning old products and features — even popular ones — is nothing new for Google. In 2013, the Mountain View giant caused a minor uproar when it shut down Google Reader, an web service that consolidated articles from around the web. And it shut down Google Flu Vaccine Finder, a mapping app that showed nearby vaccination places across the United States, in 2012.

Still, the shutdowns will no doubt catch some users by surprise, but Google is pledging to minimize the disruption wherever possible. “We realize these updates may be an inconvenience,” a spokesperson said. “These updates will help us to focus and prioritize features that will improve the entire G Suite user experience for everyone.”