Google is taking more steps today toward morphing Hangouts into a single communications platform — by adding more Google Voice features.
In a post today on the Official Google Blog, the company announced:
“Starting today you can make voice calls from Hangouts on Android, iOS and the web. It’s free to call other Hangouts users, it’s free to call numbers in the U.S. and Canada, and the international rates are really low.”
For some time, the company has characterized Hangouts as “the future of Google Voice,” and in July of last year, Google added the ability to make voice calls from Hangouts. The new Hangouts now allows users to employ Google Voice’s SMS text messages or voicemail (if first enabled in the conversation list).
“This is a big, big step forward,” Current Analysis analyst Tim Banting told VentureBeat.
“We went from the initial stage of unified communications [to this] unified communications 2.0,” he said.
Instead of Hangout’s 1.0 version — with separate use of apps for real-time and asynchronous communications (i.e., non-real time communications), such as voice and email — Banting noted that Google is bringing them all together into a single environment, Hangouts.
The analyst characterized the free calls capability, which includes free calls to regular phones, as “phenomenal” because it encroaches directly on telco territory. The new calling options will be part of version 2.3, which Google said would be available in the “next few days.”
Banting also speculated that with its rebranded Hangouts for Work, Google may be preparing an aggressive push into business markets for its new, expanded communications environment.
The new features also help build Google’s user base for unified communications by cross-marketing.
“By integrating, [Google] has an opportunity to expose Google Voice users to richer communications and expose Hangout users to Google Voice,” Reticle Research analyst (and VentureBeat contributor) Ross Rubin pointed out.
Android Police reports that Google Voice’s text messaging from Hangouts appears to be working fine but that replies to messages are not yet ready for primetime. For example, “messages sent to your Google Voice number will appear in Hangouts (mobile and desktop) just fine. Replies, however, appear to be busted in both locations right now,” Android Police reports.
But with an upcoming 2.3 version, as well as Google’s declaration of Hangouts being the future of Google Voice, it’s unlikely that these rough edges will remain unpolished for long.