The Google+ app for Android just received a big update that simplifies the way users can start Hangout video chats from their phones.
Before now, users could only start a new Google+ Hangout by initiating a Messenger chat, then tapping a video icon in the chat window. For a major feature of Google+, the process was obscure and clunky. In the new app, users can start new Hangouts by tapping the home icon at the top-left corner of the screen, selecting “Hangout” and choosing friends or circles to invite.
With this new feature, Google can now start to gain a foothold in mobile video chat. Although Google has offered one-on-one video chat through Google Talk since April 2011, Hangouts are more interesting because they support up to 10 people talking simultaneously. That helps Google stand out from Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s Facetime.
Hangout creation isn’t the only new feature in the updated Google+ app. The app also sports a new look, with images that span the width of the screen for each post. Text is big and bold, and appears directly on top of each image along with +1 and comment counts. The downside to this approach is that posts are tougher to scan through in aggregate, because you often have to click on them to see the full text and associated links, but at least the posts themselves are more inviting.
Google updated its Google+ iPhone app two weeks ago, with the same visual overhaul as the Android app. Although Google took some lumps at the time for giving Android the cold shoulder, Google Senior Vice President Vic Gondotra said the Android version would have “a few extra surprises” to make the wait worthwhile. Indeed, the ability to start Hangouts without going through Messages is an Android-exclusive feature for now.
I imagine Google will simply Hangout creation in its iPhone app eventually, but the company hasn’t said when that will happen.
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