What was lost now is found – Google this week re-added the ability to make phone calls to Hangouts, bringing a beloved feature from Google Talk to its replacement. Calls from anywhere on earth to the USA and Canada are free; calls to other countries are priced competitively, compared to Skype.
When Google launched Hangouts, a cross-platform IM system, it replaced the existing chat service embedded in Gmail. This did not replace all features – and outgoing phone calls were the most notable exclusion. That’s changed now for most users, and should be true for all users very soon. The change is another step in Google’s plans to integrate most features from Google Voice with the new Hangouts platform, according to Google employer Nikhyl Singhal:
“Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning,” said Singhal, on Google+. “Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly.”
The statement suggests SMS integration is coming soon, which would give Google (and by extension, Android) a service that rivals, if not exceeds, Apple’s iMessage service: free texting wouldn’t be limited to users of certain phones.
SMS integration is not yet a reality, but free calling to phones in North America is. The button for making a call isn’t exactly obvious:
Click the button and you’ll see contacts you’ve recently contacted below an area where you can type any phone number.
Start the call and you’ll be brought to a standard Hangouts windows:
It may seem excessive for a phone call, but there are advantages. You can, for example, add any other Hangouts user or phone number to the call, allowing you to create a conference call free of charge.
In late 2012 Google extended free phone calls in North America throughout 2013, something they’ve been doing annually essentially since Google Voice was launched in 2009. There’s no reason to think they won’t do it again for 2014, but nothing is confirmed.
Source: Gmail Blog
Image Credit: Retro Black Telephone via Shutterstock