It’s been more than a year since we started complaining about Google’s lack of unity with regards to its chat services, noting that there were too many different services that did essentially the same thing. A unified messaging solution from Google was rumored for some time under the name Babble (or Babel), but today at Google I/O the search giant finally released its unified messaging solution, called Hangouts.
The service ties together and replaces most of Google’s existing chat services, including Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and Google+ Hangouts. Voice wasn’t mentioned, but eventually all of Google’s communication products are said to be moving towards the Hangouts brand. Hangouts is a basic unified messaging app, which is available for Android, iOS, and Chrome, meaning that it will work on Windows, OS X, Linux, and Chrome OS. (In fact, a nice little Hangouts icon appeared in the notification area of my KDE desktop as soon as I installed the Chrome extension, so integration for Linux is already great.)
Hangouts is a little bit different from Google Talk in that each conversation has its own name, and the interface begins with a list of current conversations instead of online contacts. Everything in a Hangout will be stored by Google in the cloud, including shared images and video history. This also means that you can “chat” with people who are offline, and they will see what you wrote when back online (much like Google Talk). The Hangout will keep track of how far each person has read, and you will be able to see that via a small watermark of each participant’s face. Of course, Hangouts also includes the features from the original Google+ Hangout, and any conversation can quickly be switched to a video chat with a simple click or tap.
The new Hangouts app may not include an incredible number of new features, but it certainly does a good job of unifying Google’s messaging services and integrating them with Google+. It is unfortunate that Google Voice isn’t yet a part of the unified Google communication experiment, but SMS and Google Voice support is planned for the future. For now, what we have is still a very good cross-platform text and video chat platform, which has unified Google’s products and should make communication easier, at least within the Google universe.
Download: Google Play[Google]