Video chat is nothing really new to Gmail. Google's Web-based e-mail service rolled out video chat back in 2008. Apparently, the feedback was so good that Google figured it would add a social media twist to Gmail video chat via Google+ Hangouts.
"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," said Fred Brewin, Gmail product manager.
"You'll be able to chat with all the same people you did before and, in fact, with Hangouts you'll now be able to reach them not only when they are using Gmail but also if they are on Google+ in the browser or on their Android or iOS devices."
The Google+ Advantage
According to Brewin, all Gmail users will benefit from this upgrade. But, he added, if you and the person you're chatting with also use Google+, you'll get even more from the Hangouts experience.
In case you aren't familiar with Google+ Hangouts, it's a feature in Google's social network that lets you catch up with friends and family either on a computer or Android mobile device in living color. Up to 10 people can join a video Hangout. You can also broadcast the Hangout on YouTube.
"You'll be able to video chat with up to nine people at once, watch YouTube videos together, collaborate on Google documents and share your screen," Brewin said. "Plus, Hangouts has a bunch of fun effects that you can try out...because any conversation is better when you're wearing a virtual mustache or pirate hat."
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said this is one more way to promote Google+. But it's also more than that.
"Hangouts has superior functionality so it's an upgrade from the current Gmail chat capabilities across the board," Sterling told us. "And it removes some redundancy or duplication in Google's services."
Last week, YouTube started asking its members to start using real names instead of the descriptive monikers many used when they launched a channel by connecting to Google+. This is another recent way Google has worked to integrate its social network with popular properties.
Google+ a Must
Janko Roettgers at GigaOM said people will 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.
"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," Roettgers wrote in a blog post.
"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."