Google added a number of key features to its Google+ Hangouts live video chat Tuesday morning: Select users can now broadcast their Hangouts, which turns the intimate chat sessions into a live stream that can be watched by an unlimited number of participants. Hangouts are also now available to mobile users through the latest version of the Android Google+ app. Other new features include the ability to share your screen with other Hangout participants, and a Hangouts API.
The broadcast feature is a direct response to the popularity of Hangouts, which have attracted users like Michael Dell and the upcoming indie musician Daria Musk. Hangouts only support ten active participants, and popular Hangouts tend to fill up within seconds. A select number of Hangouts broadcasters will now be able to serve their video feed to an unlimited number of viewers. Google will officially launch that feature with a Hangout hosted by Hip Hop personality will.i.am on Wednesday.
Support for mobile devices was also a feature that was requested quite a bit by Hangouts users, and Google responded on Wednesday by rolling out support for Android 2.3 devices with front-facing cameras. The same feature will be added to the Google+ iOS app soon, according to the blog post. However, on the web Hangouts requires a minimum of about 900 kbps on the upload side and twice that on the download side to work, which means most 3G users will be out in the cold if they try to initiate a hangout on their mobile while using cellular networks instead of Wi-Fi. Maybe this is the app that gets people to upgrade to LTE networks?
Google also made Hangouts more useful by adding support for a number of its other products: Hangouts users can now share their screen with other video chat participants, work on a Google Docs document together and use Sketchpad while video chatting.
All of these integrations show that Hangouts may just be the killer feature of Google+ that helps to get users excited about using Google+ circles to get more use out of other Google services. With Hangouts becoming part of the Google+ API, this effect could even reach beyond Google’s core properties.