Google+ Hangouts go mobile, get live streaming and better search

All the focus may be on Google+'s new open door policy, but Google+ Hangouts also got a few compelling new features.
Written by Matt Weinberger, Contributor

Everyone is so focused on Google+'s newfound openness to all comers that they're glossing over the really cool new additions to Google+ that were also announced today: Hangouts for Android devices, the ability to live-stream and record video broadcasts, a handful of minor new sharing capabilities for Hangouts, and a better search box.

Hangouts, as a refresher, is Google+'s drop-in, drop-out videoconferencing component, where anyone can invite up to eight friends to click a link in their social news feed and chat face-to-face. Of all of Google+'s unique selling points, it's easily the flashiest. And today's announcements are only going to endear it to new audiences.

As of today, the Google+ app has for Android has been updated, granting any device with a front-facing camera and that's running Android 2.3 or higher the ability to join an active Hangout from the stream, just as on the desktop. (EDIT: Google also promises that iOS support for mobile Google+ Hangouts is coming soon.)

But my vote for the addition that's going to have the biggest impact is the new live broadcasting feature, dubbed "Hangouts on Air." As you may guess from the name, it lets users broadcast the content of their Hangout to Google+ at large, letting the masses become a spectator audience. These broadcasts can also be recorded for later retrieval.

Right now, Google+ is limiting the number of would-be videocast personalities who can take advantage of Hangouts on Air, but the official blog entry seems to indicate that the door will open up wider down the line. The first-ever publicly-broadcasted Hangout will be with the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am on Wednesday night.

Google+ Hangouts, as they exist today, let you share YouTube videos and hold a group chat. But as of today, if you select "Hangouts with extras" once you're in the green room, you get an early preview of the ability to share Google Docs, a Sketchpad for doodling, a name for the chat, or even your screen with everyone else in the room. Google says that it's pooling feedback from these early additions to Hangouts.

The recently-released Google+ APIs have been bolstered with the release of the Hangouts API, opening the door for apps or games (and, as Google's blog puts it, "and who-knows-what-else") to be built on top of the videoconferencing platform.

Finally, Google+ has gotten an enhanced search bar that answers your query with "relevant people and posts, as well as popular content from around the web." And Google is promising that the new search experience prioritizes results based on your interests - which sounds vaguely sinister - and that a search for, say, cooking, will return recipes and people listing themselves on Google+ as chefs.

And in terms of privacy, Google promises that the only G+ posts you can see from the search are ones that would normally be visible to you anyway.

So, yes, the big Google+ news of the day is the fact that it's open for all. But it's good to see that Google+ continues to develop some of its more compelling features for those who are coming in through that open door and that first wave of field testers alike. Of course, that assumes that there's anyone interested in joining Google+ now who hadn't already gotten their hands on the invites flying around.

Editorial standards