AT&T blocks Google Hangouts video chats on Android

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AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is blocking video chat features integrated into Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) new Hangouts messaging service for Android.

The standalone Hangouts app--introduced Wednesday and also available for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and the Web--integrates text, photo and video interactions into one service, rivaling over-the-top messaging efforts like WhatsApp, Viber and BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) Messenger. SlashGear reports that video chat functionality is disabled on AT&T Android devices connected to the operator's cellular network, although the feature is accessible over Wi-Fi connections. iOS users can send and receive video calls over the AT&T cellular network as well.

"All AT&T Mobility customers can use any video chat app over cellular that is not pre-loaded on their device, but which they download from the Internet," the operator explained. "For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we offer all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share, Tiered and soon Unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices. It's up to each OS and device makers to enable their systems to allow pre-loaded video chat apps to work over cellular for our customers on those plans."

The Verge speculates that from AT&T's perspective, Hangouts--available for download from the Google Play storefront--still constitutes a "preloaded" app because it replaces Android's built-in Google Talk app. At the same time, Hangouts does not replace existing functionality baked into iOS, explaining why the Apple version supports video chat. Adding to the confusion, AT&T also supports similar preloaded services like BlackBerry Messenger and Apple's FaceTime, although for a time the carrier limited FaceTime access to subscribers with AT&T Mobile Share plans or LTE-capable devices.

AT&T has not responded to requests to clarify its position. Google and Samsung representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Google unveiled Hangouts Wednesday during its annual I/O developer conference. The app supports group video conversations "at no charge," and users can initiate a video conversation with the tap of a button. According to Google Senior Vice President of Social Vic Gundotra, Hangouts "is a list of conversations, not contacts," adding that interactions can last years and can span across multiple devices. "The conversation feels alive," he said. "It really feels like you're in the same room together."

Hangouts will challenge FaceTime as well as Apple's cross-platform iMessage service. Hangouts also gives Google a leg up on BlackBerry, which earlier this week pledged to expand Messenger to additional platforms by rolling out native BBM apps for Android and iOS this summer.

For more:
- read this SlashGear article
- read this Verge article

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