iPhone (and now, iPad) users should soon be getting a significant overhaul for their Hangouts apps, including the unusual iOS-first launch of two major features: stickers and short video messages.
One of the most significant additions is “Stickers,” large animated emoticons which take up an entire message and include backgrounds. They look very similar to the Moods you’ve seen in your Google+ stream, which can be attached to posts from the Google+ app, but there are a lot more of them. Confusingly, these are different from the moods in Hangouts, which display regular emoticons next to your profile picture for a period of time.
Stickers are probably a response to the popular Facebook Messenger feature, which was in turn a response to the same service in LINE, a massively successful messaging app from Japan. What with Facebook’s recent purchase of WhatsApp, a product Google was apparently very interested in, it seems Google is going to make sure Hangouts is as appealing and fully-featured as possible.
Right now, Stickers for Hangouts are much more limited than their older counterparts: in total they comprise what would be just one set out of dozens in LINE and Facebook Messenger. In both of those apps, each set uses a strikingly different set of themes, styles, and characters, including famous brands like Pusheen and Vocaloid. Sets can be downloaded separately in a Sticker Store, allowing some of them to premium in-app purchases at around $2 each.
For better or for worse, Hangouts has started with a smaller set of more generic, pre-installed moods which do a good job at conveying emotion but lack the nuance and charm of a dragon riding a bus or a roll of toilet paper with a face on it. Hangouts could open up a Sticker Store of its own, but considering Google’s recent moves to deeply integrate their emoticons with other products like Google+, Android, and even Chrome, my guess is that they’ll opt for simplicity.
With the app update you’ll also be able to record 10-second videos and send them to everyone in a Hangout, all from within the app. Considering the viral success short videos have seen from mobile apps like Vine and Snapchat, not to mention WhatsApp, this will probably become a widely-used feature on a lot of platforms. This 10-second default for quick videos first appeared in Google Glass, one of the platforms which will hopefully get this update soon.
It’s worth mentioning that these videos are saved to albums associated with each Hangout (like photos already are) and don’t go away once they’re viewed.
A Fresh New Look
The app has been completely redesigned to be consistent with iOS 7’s flat design, compatible with iPads, and generally much more beautiful. There are many more ways to swipe and tap you way around the app. You can switch accounts, view contact information, share your location, and video chat with your friends using the more modern picture-in-picture layout seen on Hangouts for desktop. Favoriting conversations for easy access is another minor but useful iOS-exclusive.
All in all, this is one powerful messaging service: group IM, group video calls, emoticons, moods, device sharing, read receipts, archives, photo sharing, video sharing, location sharing, snooze, and favoriting, all for free. It’s clear that Google has been heavily invested in messaging ever since Hangouts merged most of Google’s chat services at I/O less than a year ago. If Google follows through on the hotly-anticipated integration of their final outlying communications service, Voice, their Google+ and Hangouts platforms will be technically capable of delivering virtually all forms of messaging.
If you haven’t yet checked out Hangouts for iOS yet, make sure you hit the download link under the source at the bottom of the article and let us know what you think.
Why is iOS getting these features first? When will it be everywhere else?
There probably isn’t any conspiracy theory here, Android fans. The announcement was made by a member of the Google+ for iOS team, which is one of several groups of Googlers who work on iOS apps separately from engineers on Google’s own platforms. It’s likely the app overhaul was in progress for a long time, and these new features fit in perfectly with the update’s time frame. Because Hangouts for Android and Chrome is developed by a different set of people, it’s hard to say exactly when this update will roll out to all users, but it probably won’t be much of a wait. Sit tight!