As expected, Google has announced a unified messaging service called Hangouts that merges its various messaging platforms including Google Talk, Google+ Hangouts, Messenger and Google Talk for Google+ into one platform, at the Google I/O event in San Francisco.
The app has been released on iOS, Android and for Chrome (as an extension) and allows users to share text, photos and live video with each other. Like other Google services, users will require a Google account to use the service and it doesn't just work by registering one's mobile number unlike WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. However, in our use we discovered that it did verify our mobile number when we installed the app on our iPhone and signed-in with our Google account credentials.
The functionality of the app is similar to Hangouts that existed in Google+ and you get a list of existing interactions when you open the app. There's a + (plus) symbol at the top right corner tapping on which displays big thumbnails of six of your contacts and a list of people who are in your Google+ circles. It also offers a search box where you can type a name, email, phone number or name of a circle to see more contacts. You can select the contacts you want to chat with and start a text or video hangout. The hangout could also be limited to one contact but you'll still need to select the thumbnail and tap on the text or video button to initiate the interaction. You can then send photo and text messages or start a video chat anytime during the conversation. Google has also introduced 850 new hand-drawn emoticons and the service notifies you of the other person typing a message.
You can customise how you receive Hangout notifications, who can send you requests or directly initiate hangouts and block people you don't want to talk to. The app supports multiple accounts so you can chat with contacts on the lists of two or more Google accounts.
It's also interesting to note that notifications are synced across devices which means that if you start a conversation on the web and continue with it on your phone, the web interaction would also get updated.
We feel that Google has essentially tried to unify its messaging services across the PC and mobile without getting into the territory of services like Viber and WhatsApp. We already knew about the service after a series of leaks that began since the time Google was testing it as Babel.