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Google Hangouts To Support Voice Calls

Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour

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At its annual developer conference last week, Google took one of the most well-regarded features in Google+, Hangouts video chat, and turned it into a stand-alone cross-platform messaging application.

The revised Hangouts combines video chat with Google Talk, a text chat system that became part of Gmail, and Google+ Messenger, an Android app that provides text chat alongside photo sharing and video in Google+. It now extends to multiple platforms: Hangouts is available as a Chrome Web extension, an iOS app, an Android app and as a Web service within Google+.

It includes: the ability to send photos of emoji icons, real-time activity indicators, an optional conversation history, a unified cross-device notification system, and, of course, group video chat. It's all free.

[ Why is Congress concerned about Google's new high-tech glasses? Read Google Glass Alarms Lawmakers. ]

Although Hangouts is supposed to unify Google's real-time communications services, it isn't quite there yet: Google Voice has problems with Hangouts and Android customers have been unable to use the app on AT&T's cellular network. Both of those issues, however, should be resolved before the end of the year, if not sooner.

AT&T issued a statement to The Verge on Monday saying the company plans "to enable pre-loaded video chat apps over cellular for all our customers, regardless of data plan or device." The telecom company expects to implement this change throughout the second half of 2013, which should eliminate any of the issues Hangouts users with Android phones might be experiencing.

Presently, AT&T supports the use of downloaded video chat apps, but not apps it deems to be pre-installed, unless they've been cleared with AT&T. It doesn't consider Hangouts for iOS to be pre-installed. Nor does it consider the video chat capabilities in the Android Google+ app to be pre-installed. But AT&T customers with Android phones can't use Hangouts except over Wi-Fi.

Hangouts users also can look forward to Google Voice integration. Users of Hangouts on the desktop cannot place Google Voice calls, although they can still receive them. This has understandably annoyed a number of Google Voice users, prompting them to complain.

Google product manager Nikhyl Singhal on Monday published an update through Google+ stating that Google intends to make both inbound and outbound Google Voice calls work in Hangouts.

"Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning," he wrote. "Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly."

In addition, Google is working on SMS integration for Hangouts.

According to Google, over 190 million users actively contribute to the Google+ Stream every month and over 390 million users engage every month with Google+ through Google and third-party websites.