Google, on Wednesday, unveiled some new and some enhanced products that Android, Chrome, Maps, and Web users are sure to love. One of the new products announced was Hangouts. Now, I know what you're thinking: Google+ has had Hangouts for a while, and you're right. But Google has taken Hangouts out of Google+ and built it into a standalone instant messaging app for mobile devices.
The app, available on iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices allows users to keep a unified chat experience in sync across not only the devices listed above, but also within Chrome, Google+ and Gmail.
The iOS app is available from the App Store for free, as is the Android version from the Play Store. Don't be alarmed when the Talk icon disappears on your Android device; Hangouts replaces Talk and will be what you use from now on.
Here are some highlights of what you'll need to know when you start using Hangouts:
- When you first launch the app you'll need to log into a Google account. You'll then be alerted to the fact that Google is keeping a log of all your chats, with the explanation being that it gives you easy access to your conversations no matter which device you're using. It makes sense, but it's sure to make a few users feel uneasy (more on this below).
- At any time, you can create a conversation, or Hangout, by tapping on the "+" sign in the top-right corner of the app. You'll be able to select any of your Google+ contacts, as well as the contacts in your address book.
- Once you begin a conversation, no matter the number of recipients, you'll see their profile photo in the chat next to received message. But you'll also notice a faint profile photo randomly placed within your conversation. This is what Google calls a Watermark, meant to indicate the last spot in the conversation that person has read. It's a different take on the Delivered and Read indicators we are accustomed to seeing in other chat apps.
- At any time during a conversation, you can tap on the camera icon at the top and a video Hangout will begin with everyone in the group, be it one person or 10.
- You can archive a conversation from the conversation list by swiping on it in either direction. You can also delete a conversation by opening the conversation and tapping the profile icon (on iOS) or the menu icon (on Android). In this same location you'll find an option to create a group hangout, disable notifications and track Hangout history.
- Android users will have access to a long list of emoji and special characters when composing a message. iOS users will still have access to the native emoji support in built into iOS.
The best feature of Hangouts is the fact your conversations are kept in sync across devices. You no longer have to remember where you left off when moving from the desktop to your mobile devices, or vice versa. Finally, a consistent chat experience from Google. Thank you.