There was once a time when Google’s suite of communication apps included Google+ Messaging, Google Talk, Google Hangouts, and Google Voice. It made for a very disjointed experience for people sticking to Google for all their communication needs. Then, Google combined the first three services and called them “Hangouts”. It didn’t have a pretty start, but Hangouts has seriously improved across the board since launching back in May this year.
Earlier today, Google updated Hangouts for iOS to Version 1.3. It is a pretty major upgrade in terms of features. You can now make phone calls, Google Voice calls, send and receive animated GIFs, and see who is online or off. Let’s discuss them one by one in more detail.
Gmail has had voice calling features since late 2011, as far as I remember. Google has finally included that in the Hangouts app for iOS. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except you can currently call US and Canada phone numbers for free! This is huge for people living within these two regions as they can significantly reduce their voice calling bill by using Hangouts. For people outside US and Canada – such as yours truly – you can use this for staying in touch with friends and family living/ studying abroad. I know I’ll be using it for that and for contacting customer support for some of my electronic gadgets. Calling outside these two regions comes with a fee, of course.
Those of you using Google Voice to replace your wireless carrier can now use the Hangouts app for placing and receiving Voice calls. We weren’t able to test this feature because Voice doesn’t work well outside specific countries, but it is safe to assume that it works as advertised.
Google has added two other features in Hangouts 1.3. You can now see who is online and available, much like Viber or WhatsApp. Great for deciding whether you should text them (since they are online) or call them if it is an urgent matter.
Last but not least, you can now send and receive animated GIFs! There’s a GIF for everything these days, so this will resonate with the younger, Tumblr / 9GAG / Reddit-using demographic.
I’m going to stick to WhatsApp and Viber for now, since everyone I know is already using it, but I can see both of them being replaced by Hangouts in the future.
Hangouts 1.3 is available for free from the iTunes App Store. Download it from the link below.