Google+ Hangouts is getting new features, including the option to video chat from your mobile phone, make a public hangout into a broadcast, name a hangout, share a screen, do a group doodle, create Google Docs, and access the Hangouts API.
The New Features in Detail
We start with one of the most in-demand features for Google+’s group video chat feature: Hangouts will be accessible from any Android 2.3 or higher device that has a front-facing camera as of the current mobile version update. Users can simply tap “Join” on any hangout in their stream to jump into the hangout. Support for iOS devices is coming soon.
Additionally, Google is making a nod to users who have been using Hangouts to create their own small talk shows, game shows, and other broadcasts. With the addition of Hangouts “On Air,” users will be able to make any public hangout into a broadcast, allowing any number of people to watch the video. Google is rolling out this feature slowly, starting with select broadcasters and eventually opening the feature to the public.
A related change that’s useful for broadcasters but nice for any public hangout user is the option to name your public hangouts. This is especially nice as a way to help other users find your video by topic.
New functionalities are being added to hangouts, too. Users can share their screen’s current content, open up a sketchpad to start a group doodle, or open Google Docs to work a collaborative document.
All of the changes are being rolled out globally by the end of the day on September 21.
The Importance of +Hangouts
Hangouts has been getting more attention than any other single element of Google+, with Google pushing for improved accessibility, stability, and functionality from day one. For example, Mashable recently noted how the "take the floor" feature, which makes it so the main camera shifts through a keyboard command, opens up Hangouts to the hearing impaired.
At the release of Google+, early adopters pointed to Hangouts as the main feature that differentiated Plus from Facebook. It’s only logical, then, that Google would leverage this feature as a way to both win new users and ensure that Facebook can’t simply “catch up” by adding basic video functionality (as they did shortly after Plus’s launch).
Hangouts have also been seen by business owners as a unique marketing opportunity and by creative users as a new place to experiment. Both businesses and creative developers should be happy to find that Google is releasing the API of Hangouts, allowing for deep customization and integration with other applications.