|Initial release||May 15, 2013|
|Stable release||3.0 / April 6, 2015|
Google Hangouts is an instant messaging and video chat platform developed by Google. It replaces three messaging products that Google had implemented concurrently within its services, including Google Talk, Google+ Messenger (formerly: Huddle), 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.
As of version 2.3 (September 12, 2014), Hangouts includes the ability to make free voice calls to other Hangouts users, and charges users (via pre-registered credit) to call landline and mobile phones internationally except for calls to the United States and Canada which are free of charge. Currently, Android users must have both the Google Hangouts and Hangouts Dialer apps installed if they wish to call landline or mobile telephone numbers via the public switched telephone network.
On February 16, 2015, Google announced it is discontinuing Google Talk and instructed users to migrate to the Hangouts app on the Chrome browser platform.
Hangouts allows 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.
Google Hangouts have unleashed several Easter Eggs to surprise users and for them to have fun. Most of the Easter Eggs will appear on all users of the hangout with the exception of /ponystream and the Konami Code.
- Typing woot would let a yellow animated emoji-like face crawl up the screen and laugh in your face or a fox dude with a birdie on his head waving two flags. This also corresponds to typing woohoo, woo hoo, yay!! (at least 2 exclamation marks), and hooray! (at least 1 exclamation mark).
- Typing happy birthday would let a cake be rolled out by a fox and a birdie on top of the cake. This also corresponds to typing happy bday or happy b-day.
- Typing happy new year would let out a fox and goose dancing and a few fireworks.
- Typing hahahaha would let the yellow emoji-like face crawl up or a fox and a goose laughing at each other. !Note!: The 'hahahaha's have to be in one line in one go. This also corresponds to typing ha ha ha ha, hehehehe, he he he he, or using five 'ha's or 'he's. Also works by typing lolol (3 'l's to 6 'l's), rotfl, kkkk, and also lmao.
- Typing /ponies would let an animated pony (similar to the ones from My Little Pony) and it will prance across the screen. There are a total of 21 different ponies. Typing /ponystream would unleash infinite ponies all running in different directions on your screen (only left and right). To stop the ponystream, type in /ponystream again.
- Typing /shydino would let a dinosaur hiding behind a house appear on the screen. To make the dinosaur and the house disappear, simply type in /shydino again,
- Typing /bikeshed would change the colour of the background of the hangout screen. The colour varies for all users so typing "Look! Pink!" wouldn't be advised.
- Typing /pitchforks would let out a whole mob of little people carrying pitchforks and torches. There are more than 16 different little people. Some mobs are short while some are long.
- Applying the Konami Code (i.e. up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Enter) would change the background of the hangout screen into a beautiful view of nature. One can only do the code once. To do it again, one must close the hangout window and reopen it.
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.
Additionally, the tight integration of Google Hangouts to Google+ can lead to the unwilling sharing of personal information to others.
On November 4, 2014, Google Hangouts scored 2 out of 7 points on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's secure messaging scorecard. It received points for having communications encrypted in transit and for having had a recent independent security audit. It lost points because communications are not encrypted with a key the provider doesn't have access to, users can't verify contacts' identities, past messages are not secure if the encryption keys are stolen, the code is not open to independent review, and the security design is not properly documented.
On November 30, 2014, Make Use Of hailed Google Hangouts as the "best messaging app on Android by far".
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