Google took a major step towards unifying all of its messaging services under one app Wednesday by adding free voice calling and a number of other Google Voice features to Hangouts. Android users can make free voice calls as soon as they update to the newest version of Hangouts, while web and iOS users will have access to free calls immediately.
Hangouts users are also getting access to some [company]Google[/company] Voice features: Calls made from within the Hangouts client now feature a user’s Google Voice phone number as caller ID, and calls to that number automatically are being answered through the Hangouts app.
Users will also be able to send SMS text messages through Hangouts, and Google Voice voicemail messages will start to show up in Hangouts conversational streams — at least on Android and the web, that is. iOS will for now only feature voice calling, but Google is promising an update to the Hangouts iOS app soon as well.
Google also reduced some of the prices for international calls. Calling landline numbers in continental Europe via Hangouts, for example, is now as little as $0.01 per minute, whereas making these calls via Google Voice or Google Talk used to cost $0.02 per minute.
All of this is part of making Hangouts the centerpiece of Google’s messaging efforts, which traditionally been scattered across a number of apps and services. Hangouts VP of Engineering Chee Chew put it this way in a Google+ post:
“Hangouts remains the future of Google Voice, so we’re going to keep bringing the most-loved Google Voice features into the core Hangouts experience.”