Google has rebranded “Hangouts” as a unified cross-platform messaging system allowing users to text, photo, and group video message across Hangouts’ Android and iOS apps, plus its allows Gmail and Google+ site integration. Hangouts is available today, replacing Google Talk and G+ Messenger.
For over a year, whispers from GigaOm, Droid Life and others signaled Google would undertake a big unification of its fragmented messaging offering. Today Google will offer new free iOS and Android Hangout apps, the Google+ integration, and you can upgrade from Google Talk to Hangouts by clicking on your photo in the Gmail chat list. There are currently no plans for other platforms like Windows Phone or Blackberry.
Presence, or knowing when friends are available to chat, is a big focus of Hangouts. You can tell when friends are on Hangouts, if they’re currently typing a message, and if they’ve read your messages. You can select specific friends or a whole group to start a chat with via Google+ Circles.
Hangouts will deliver your messages to the web interface or mobile app your friends are using. When you’re offline, Hangouts will store any messages you receive until your return. The service won’t send you an email every time you receive a message while you’re offline, instead it will only notify you by email if someone starts a conversation with you while you’re away. Notifications won’t send duplicate notifications on different platforms, and notifications can be quieted altogether if needed.
You’ll be able to start, stop, or restart a conversation as you move between platforms, and any friends you chat with can be on iOS, Android, or the desktop.
Emojis, photos and video can be used in messages. You can select from any of 850 hand-drawn emoji images. When you send photos in Hangouts, they are saved to a Google+ album that those involved in the conversation can view, edit, or share later.
Video chat in Hangouts allows you to talk with up to 10 friends at once, with whomever is talking shown in a big window, while everyone else in the chat are shown in the tiles below. Hangouts will ring up friends when you call them, and they’ll be notified if they miss the digital meetup.
To set itself apart from services like FaceTime, Hangouts video has added features, such as visual and sound effects. The group can also can watch YouTube videos and take screenshots for later.
The app doesn’t allow sending non-Hangouts users SMS messages, so you’ll need to make sure the users you want to connect with have the Hangout app installed.
Google Hangouts is available in the App Store now. [DIRECT LINK]