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Google Now, Hangouts feel here, there and everywhere

Matt Hamblen | May 20, 2013
Google this week unleashed a blizzard of updates and improvements that fundamentally change -- and radically improve -- how we get information and communicate.

The command for waking up Now on Chrome is "OK, Google" so your phone and your Google Glass device don't think you're talking to them. (The Glass command is "OK, Glass.")

Communicating with people
Google has long offered many ways to communicate: Email, chat, IM, phone calls and multi-user video chat under overlapping brands like Gmail, Talk, Messenger, Voice and Hangouts -- a group video chat service on Google+.

Google announced a new service this week that's also called Hangouts, the new uber brand for Google-hosted communication.

Hangouts is an alternative to Apple's iMessage, Microsoft's Skype and Facebook's Messenger. But it's also fundamentally different in subtle ways that may change how you think about online communication.

The theme of Hangouts is unification, which happens on two levels.

The first is that Hangouts unifies several of Google's old apps into a single app. Specifically, it unifies Talk, Messenger and Hangouts into a single product, with some integration with the original Hangouts, Gmail and Google+.

Second, and more profoundly, it unifies instances of Hangouts across all your devices. Any change you make on one device is reflected instantly across all the others. (You can find Hangouts as a Chrome extension, as the messaging feature of both Google+ and Gmail and in the form of stand-alone iOS and Android apps.)

So let's say you're chatting with a couple of friends on Google+, and you have to run to the bank. While standing in line, you just fire up the app on your smartphone and you see the whole conversation -- not only what was said while you were at your computer, but also what was said while you were driving to the bank.

The log-in is associated with you, not your devices. When you communicate with someone, you're communicating with them, not their devices. And you can take conversations from chat to picture-sharing to phone calls to group video chats and back to chat, and from phone to tablet to laptop to desktop.

The conversations go anywhere the people go, not where the devices go.

You can use a handy "snooze" feature to make yourself unavailable for any amount of time. You can also block people.

The other cool thing is that Hangouts are real-time, asynchronous and persistent. Wait, what?

In the old days, these were mutually exclusive. Real-time messaging, like texting and IM, is ephemeral. If you're there for it, great. If you're not, you might miss the message. Email is asynchronous and persistent, but not a real-time medium. But if you're away from Hangouts when someone sends you a message, a notice will pop up on your desktop when you launch Chrome. The message will be there when you open the mobile app.


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