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2016 in Review: Hangouts (yes, still Hangouts)


Hangouts got some decent updates in 2016, despite being upstaged by Google's sexy new 1:1 chat and video messaging apps Allo and Duo.

When Allo and Duo were announced at Google I/O in May, there was much speculation that Hangouts was on the chopping block. But Google quickly clarified that "We're continuing to invest in Hangouts and it will remain a standalone product,", but with a different user base in mind.  Allo and Duo are for personal one-to-one interaction on mobile devices, while Hangouts is focusing on business and collaborative uses. 

Nick Fox, Google's VP of communication products, told Nathan Ingraham at Engadget:
"Because Hangouts is built on a Google account, because it's deeply integrated with Google apps, the Apps suite [things like Drive, Docs, etc.], Gmail, Calendar and so on, it's seen much more success in the enterprise," Fox told me. "It will increasingly focus on that kind of group collaboration enterprise productivity space."
Amit Fulay, Group Product Manager at Google and one of the leads on Duo similarly explained to Forbes:
Unlike Duo, Hangouts is full-featured video calling solution that allows for various integrations and works on PC’s as well as mobile devices. “Hangouts will still be the place for productivity,” Fulay informs me. “Duo is meant to be about the individual, Hangouts is more for collaboration.”
And Hangouts is part of the "secret sauce" behind Project Fi's mobile calling technology, as Nick Fox explained:
With a Hangout, you can connect to several people simultaneously over the ‘net, chatting via video and, of course, audio. When you place a call over Wi-Fi via Project Fi, Google sets it up as a Hangout—only without the video. If you leave Wi-Fi, the Hangout keeps running, and then, because Hangout can juggle multiple connections, your phone can establish a new link over a cellular network.
Hangouts phone call technology also allows Google to offer users free calls around the world when tragedy strikes, as it did far too many times in 2016 (in Belgium, Turkey, France, Japan and Ecuador).

Chat updates
  • Share a link to let people chat with you on Hangouts 
  • Invite anyone to join your group Hangout chat simply by sharing a unique link (and kick people out) 
  • New Chrome Hangouts extension experience
  • Shortcuts for ¯\(ツ)/¯ , ಠ_ಠ and (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ and even more emotes (-‸ლ) 
Goodbye to Google+

One of the other big changes for Hangouts was the separation from Google+. When Hangouts launched in 2013, it was deeply integrated with Google+. But since then it's been gradually moving out onto its own. Now, at the end of 2016, the divorce is nearly complete. The new Google+ web interface - now the default (and only experience for G Suite users) - does not include Hangouts. Hangouts are still available at hangouts.google.com, Gmail, or using the Chrome extension.

The new Google+ also does not include Events. Hangouts on Air moved completely over to YouTube from Google+ Events in September.

What's coming in 2017? 

The G Suite Early Adoptor program describes a new Hangouts experience for business meetings:
A new meeting experience for Google Hangouts makes this exceedingly easy: no downloads, no browser plugins, invite anyone, join from any device, even without an account or a data connection. Every meeting generates a short link and dial-in phone number so you can invite anyone without friction. An updated user interface accommodates up to 50 video participants, and with seamless integration into Calendar and instant screen sharing, your team will be better connected than it ever was before.
There's no way to know when (or even if) that will make its way to consumers, but it sounds pretty interesting.

And I'm hoping for updates to the Hangouts mobile app as well.

Read on for the detailed list of Hangouts updates and some great Hangouts tips.

Top 2016 Hangouts Tips 

Hangout on Air tips will be with my Live streaming roundup.
  • Google Hangouts webinar with Top Contributor expert Kyle Salewski​ and Michael Daniels
  • Find your Hangouts after switching to the new Google+ 
  • Manage your Hangouts images in the Google Album Archive
  • It's now easier to view and manage people blocked in Google+ and Hangouts in your Google account 
  • Invite phone participants to a Hangout video call (using the old interface)

Hangouts Updates 2016

Updated March 2019 to remove Google+ links

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