What it is: Hangouts is Google's revamped cross-platform (iOS/Android/Desktop) instant messaging platform, which hopes to give Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp a run for their users. Google's already snuck a lot of its instant messaging features within its ecosystem of apps and services — like the G-Chat sidebar on your Gmail interface and the video conferencing available in Google+. But, Hangouts hopes to channel all of those separate streams into a more cohesive, one-stop app. So, on top of syncing all of your separate chats across the platforms you use, it will intelligently use your communication history to store common contacts and important people in one easy sidebar.
What's new: Google has seemingly taken a page from every competitor's playbook while building the new Hangouts app; sharing photos synced to your Google+ account, sending video, and instantly switching over to video chat across platforms (so you can video chat with all those friends over on Apple’s side of the fence). Also, live watermarking is available so you can see how far along other people in the chat have read along and whether they're typing. Not to mention there will be 850+ new emojis to express every emotion (!) possible.
What it hopes to do: With all the pieces that make up Hangouts, it seems like Google is finally stepping into the ring not only with its corporate nemesis Facebook, but also locking horns with some of the smaller and more niche players in the field. The emojis launch seems like Google's directly flexing on the Korean chat app Line, which took over Japan and China with its colorful and kooky emoji-focused interface. Syncing all your instant communications across platforms — particularly if you're a Google Apps user — could actually loosen Facebook Messenger’s chokehold on the market.
Why we should care: With so many features in the initial release, and Google finally coming around to the importance of instant messaging across platforms, The big G is always a steady horse to bet on in a long race. The fact that you can seamlessly type or talk across Apple and Android platforms, combined with Google's win in video-chat functionality, means you can bet on seeing more chat about Hangouts in the coming months.
What It Is: Google's answer to Spotify and Rdio, All-Access is a subscription-based, music-streaming service with millions of songs from major labels, including Universal Music, Sony Entertainment Group, and Warner Music Group. At $9.99 per month, it's a couple bucks more expensive than the competition but boasts comparable features. User-curated music lists look and feel like those found on Spotify and there's a feature that allows you to instantly create a Pandora-like station based off of any song or album you're listening to without having to fidget through a separate menu.
What's New: Unfortunately, not that much. Google's first step into the music streaming arena could be described as "safe" at best. Without any sort of exclusive relationships to music publishers (think how Hulu scored that exclusive with The Criterion Collection, much to the dismay of every Netflix user out there) and a feature set that cribs more than it innovates, Google's going to have to pull a few surprises out over the coming months to justify its more expensive monthly subscription.
What It Hopes To Do: This seems like a marketplace play more than any attempt for Google to innovate in the space. Perhaps they see the big players like Spotify and Rdio sucking up the majority of the userbase and want to get in on the action? Perhaps they have some sort of larger play that might weave in video/television streaming down the line? With no top-line mission or justification of the service, it’s kind of just sitting there on Google’s App store, hoping to soak up some users.
Why We Should Care: With Google, there's always the chance that there's a technological or business trick up its sleeve. If this streaming service becomes one part of a larger film and television streaming service, then sign us up! With Google behind the wheel, we could see this as the first service that will allow us to get our new JT album and our favorite episodes of Mad Men and the latest Iron Man, all from the same well. But, that bright future may be a ways off.
What It Is: Google+ is the big G's two-year-old social network. While it boasts over 190 million active users, it may never upset Facebook's dominance in the field, but it has carved out an interesting and experimental place where Google has tried out some of its coolest apps and new functionalities. Google+ birthed Hangouts, which as we mentioned above, has now broken out into its own cross-platform app. But, the tech community always carefully watches "+," to get a read on what's up Google's sleeve.
Whats New: Google announced a bunch of new features for "+", but the one feature that has been getting the most spotlight is photo editing and sharing. Google acquired the company Nik Software, maker of several popular photo-editing products and has now announced a bunch of new functionalities to Google+'s photo tool set. "Auto Highlight" sorts duplicates, as well as blurry and poorly exposed images; "Auto Enhance" optimizes brightness, contrast, saturation, noise, focus, and other factors; and "Auto Awesome" can create GIFs when bursts of photos are taken. Other features include confirming smiles in group photos, stitching panoramas, sorting portraits together into photo booth-style arrangements, and turning sets of bracketed exposures into HDR photos.
What It Hopes To Do: With so many new photo features integrated into the core Google+ tool set, it looks like Google wants to create a bit of competition for the recent Facebook/Instagram love-fest. Perhaps with a more robust and easy-to-use set of photo editing tools built right into its social network, Google can convince some of the key influencers who flick through their Instagram filters all day to take a walk on a different side of the road.
Why We Should Care: On top of the robust tool sets, it seems like everything Google introduced had an "Auto" in the title. If they can nail down the functionality and it's as simple as swapping filters, Google might be able to break out of being just the go-to search engine, and becoming much more relevant in the social sphere.
Photo: Via Facebook/Google