Google is upgrading its Hangouts lounge by merging voice and video calling into one app, offering both services free across North America and at pennies on the dollar for international services.
Previously, the voice and video functions were separated into two apps on the desktop, iOS and Android versions of the software. The new, more robust version of Google Hangouts will roll out over the course of a few days.
"Whether it's your sister in Paris, your best friend in Boston or Jenny at 867-5309, Hangouts lets you call the people you care about at little or no cost," says Amit Fulay, product manager of Google Hangouts.
Google's calling rates beat out the competition by offering service at 5 cents per minute for Mexico, 3 cents per minute for France and 1 cent per minute for India. The leading Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) company services Mexico with 28 cents-per-minute calling, 20 cents per for France and 3 cents per for India, according to Google's chart of Hangouts rates.
"We know how important it is to keep in touch with friends and family, especially when they're spread around the world," Fulay says. "Hangouts already makes it easy to send a quick message, or start a group video chat. But sometimes it's best to just call to say 'I love you,' and with the new version of Hangouts you can."
Android users will have to install the Hangouts Dialer app along with Hangouts version 2.3, the latest version of the software. Desktop and iOS users will receive the update automatically and it will be available the next time they launch Hangouts, according to Fulay.
With the Hangouts dialer installed on Android devices, users can place both voice and video calls from Hangouts or launch the services from a dailer icon. Having two options to launch the same services could appear as a bit of a redundancy in the eyes of some users.
The merging of voice and video calling in Google Hangouts comes roughly a month after Google offered a bit of flexibility on the types of users that could access the services.
Previously, use of Google Hangouts required a Google+ account. But after an update in early August, Google allowed Google Apps customers to access Hangouts without the requirement of having a Google+ account.
"Google Apps customers have been taking advantage of both Google+ and Hangouts for long enough that we recognize the separate use cases for both," a Google spokesperson said of the change to TechCrunch. "The goal of [this] launch is to make it easier for employees and businesses to communicate by video. Our customers recognize the value of connecting face-to-face and are driving this demand."