|Initial release||May 15, 2013|
|Stable release||2.3 / September 12, 2014|
Google Hangouts is an instant messaging and video chat platform developed by Google, which launched on May 15, 2013 during the keynote of its I/O development conference. It replaces three messaging products that Google had implemented concurrently within its services, including Talk, Google+ Messenger, and Hangouts, a video chat system present within Google+. Google has also stated that Hangouts is designed to be "the future" of its telephony product, Google Voice, and integrated some of the capabilities of Google Voice into Hangouts. In current versions of Android, Hangouts is the default application for text messaging.
Prior to the launch of Hangouts, Google had maintained several similar, but technologically separate messaging services and platforms across its suite of products. These have included the enterprise-oriented Google Talk (based on XMPP), Google+ Messenger, and the Hangouts feature of Google+, which allows for group videoconferencing with up to 10 users at once. However, its increasingly fragmented and non-unified suite of messaging offerings was also facing growing competition from services such as Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and WhatsApp. A decision was made to scrap the existing Google Talk system and code a new messaging product through a collaboration with multiple development teams.
Hangouts allows users to hold conversations between two or more users. The service can be accessed online through the Gmail or Google+ websites, or through mobile apps available for Android and iOS (which were distributed as a successor to their existing Google Talk apps). However, because it uses a proprietary protocol instead of the XMPP open standard protocol used by Google Talk, most third-party applications which had access to Google Talk do not have access to Google+ Hangouts. In contrast, the GVJackApp for magicJack and the GVMate Phone Adapter both of which are signalling independent will not be adversely affected and will continue to work for users as normal using the Google+ Hangouts platform after support for XMPP has been terminated.
Chat histories are saved online, allowing them to be synced between devices. A "watermark" of a user's avatar is used as a marker to indicate how far they have read into the conversation. Photos can be shared during conversations, which are automatically uploaded into a private Google+ album. Users can also now use color emoji symbols in their messages.
As with the previous Google+ Hangouts, users can also perform a group video chat with up to 10 users at a time. The new Google Hangouts app on iOS integrates a Google Voice number to some extent, but on Android the SMS support in Hangouts doesn't fully integrate with Google Voice for calls or texts. The integration will not arrive until 2014. The reason for the delay appears tied into Google switching away from the XMPP protocol it used, as mentioned above.
In Android 4.4, Hangouts is integrated with text messages sending and receiving functions, which is the default SMS app in Nexus 5. For other Android phones, users can choose to open the SMS function when they download the new version of Hangouts via Google Play. SMS conversations are shown in a drawer on the left side. The update also adds GIF support and a new location-sharing button, which allows the user to send their GPS location to their contacts.
As of May 2013, Google Hangouts faced criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation as they felt that Google was "moving in the wrong direction " by shrinking its support for the open standard protocol XMPP. The new protocol does not allow Google Hangouts to be integrated with multi-chat clients like Pidgin or Adium. XMPP allowed for use of Google Talk through first and third party clients, something that is not possible any more with Google Hangouts.
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