Google (s GOOG) took a first big step Monday towards unifying all its messaging products by integrating Google+ Hangouts directly into GMail. The group video chat will replace the traditional 1:1 video calling experience offered by Google Talk. From the announcement blog post:
“Unlike the old video chat, which was based on peer-to-peer technology, Hangouts utilize the power of Google’s network to deliver higher reliability and enhanced quality. While all Gmail users will experience these benefits, if you’ve created a Google+ profile you can invite up to nine other participants to your video meetings and take advantage of advanced features like screen sharing and integrated Google Docs collaboration.”
That being said, people will still be able to make video calls with Hangouts if they haven’t signed up for Google+ yet, but they’re going to be presented with a light version of the Hangouts client that only allows 1:1 video calling. The new feature will be rolled out to personal GMail accounts first, and then come to Google apps accounts in the coming weeks.
Google representatives first mentioned at last month’s Google I/O conference that the company was working on merging its various messaging, voice and video products. Making these products more appealing and less confusing to consumers is an obvious reason for this step, but Google is also working on advancing the core technology of its voice and video messaging clients. The next generation of Hangouts will be powered by WebRTC, which will make it possible to use video chat directly in the browser without the need for any plug-in.