Google has announced a series of updates to its Google+ video conferencing feature "Hangouts" that will make video chats more accessible to everyone.
Want to hang out virtually with your family over Christmas but your mother doesn't have a webcam? The latest Hangouts updates make it possible for you to include camera-less participants in your video chats thanks to the integration of a dial-in voice service that piggybacks on Google Voice.
Google senior vice president of Engineering Vic Gundotra says, "nearly everyone has a telephone, and today we’re making it possible to dial-in anyone, from almost any country, directly into your hangout." Calls from within Google Hangouts are free to the US and Canada while the price of international calls can be found at
Hangouts is now more prominent within the Google+ social network. Rather than just appearing as a status update that can be quickly missed if your G+ feed is buzzing with activity, users will see a notification on the right-hand side of the stream when a hangout is live. Google will also notify you by ringing your device when you are invited to a hangout.
Hangouts are no longer limited to your PC either -- an updated Android and iOS Google+ app featuring Hangouts on Google+ Messenger will be available "soon." The addition of Hangouts on Google+ Messenger on mobile devices offers mobile users an alternative to Apple’s own iPhone, iPad and iPod video chat service Facetime (but with the ability to chat with more than just one other person).
Google has previously broadcast live hangouts with famous G+ users including the Black Eyed Peas, the Dalai Lama and the Muppets via its "On Air" service. The company has plans to roll out On Air Hangouts -- still in active development -- to a wider group of people and is starting this process by turning Hangouts on for hundreds of public figures, Google+ users with large followings and celebrities.
These selected few will be able to broadcast their Hangouts live to the public whenever they feel the need. On Air Hangouts will automatically be uploaded to YouTube (as a private recording) once you’re off air so you can keep a copy and share it with your friends.
If you want to add a bit of holiday cheer to your Hangouts, Google has introduced a virtual pair of antlers which you can add to your head during your face-to-face-to-face-to-reindeer chats. Google also announced that developers will soon have the ability to create their own fun video effects using the updated Hangouts API.
Microsoft’s video-calling service Skype is getting dressed up for the holiday season too with holiday-themed video greetings that you can send to your loved ones.