Google has today anounced the ability to begin a Hangout video chat from any conversation on Google+. In addition, it has announced that users can have members dial-in to a hangout even without a webcam.
Additionally, Google is expanding the ability to broadcast your hangout ‘On Air’ and record it for later viewing.
The more streamlined methods to start a hangout should help to lower the barrier for those looking to start using the service. It could also help to expose the feature to those who may not be aware of it. Now that it is present right in the chat interface on mobile and the conversation interface on the web, a hangout is just a tap or click from a regular text conversation.
This feature will be enabled in future versions of the iOS and Android apps, which are coming to their respective stores. The Android app should be available first, within a few days.
The Hangouts On Air feature has been used before by a few celebrities, but Google says that it is still in ‘active development’. That is not stopping them from turning it on for more public figures and those with high Google+ user counts.
Basically, you’re able to turn your hangout into a live broadcast by tapping a ‘broadcast and record’ button after you’ve started a hangout. Then users can join the broadcast and view your content. This is a sort of ‘public’ hangout.
If you have friends and family that you wish could join and participate in a hangout, but do not have a webcam or front-facing camera, then Google has you covered. They are introducing a Dial-in feature that allows users to jump into your hangout from almost any country in the world right from a telephone.
Calls to the U.S. and Canada are free and international rates are apparently super cheap.
There are now more ways to see what hangouts are underway. On the right hand side of your stream, there will be up to three hangouts currently underway from people in your circles. Also, if you’re invited to a hangout you will now get a notification on your device (via the app) to let you know that you have one waiting for you.
If you’re hanging out in a Google property with Gchat, you’ll get a notice there as well.
And as a last tidbit, Google has also added Antlers to its offerings of on-screen accessories to add to your face during a hangout. The company had previously added a moustache in Movember.
This is a pretty aggressive suite of improvements to the hangouts feature set. It looks like the G+ team is hard at work getting features out before the holidays. It’s likely that many of these improvements will get used over Christmas and New Years as families are connecting with Google+.
Since this is its first holiday season as a launched product, Google will no doubt be interested to see how users take to Google+ as a way to communicate with friends and family.