Once upon a time we could make phone calls directly from Gmail. Then, all of a sudden, Google cut the cord. Now the technology giant is bringing back the popular service.
"For those of you who have taken the plunge and are using desktop Hangouts in Gmail, Google+, and the Chrome extension, we've heard loud and clear that you miss the ability to make calls from Gmail, so today, we're happy to announce it's back -- and better than before!" said Alex Wiesen, senior software engineer, writing in the Google blog.
What does Wiesen mean by "even better"? For starters, calls to the U.S. and Canada are now free from any country where Google Hangouts is available. Beyond that, the company promised "super, super low" international rates.
Next question: How low is "super, super low"? Google offered a side-by-side comparison between its rates and the "leading Internet telephony provider." The difference is significant. For example, Google charges 10 cents less per minute to call France, 15 cents less to call Germany, 7 cents less to call India and 18 cents less to call Mexico.
Wiesen said the re-launch also improves the desktop calling experience. For example, you can add multiple phone numbers and video participants to the same call. You can also play sound effects -- like applause or laughter -- with the Google Effects app.
In case you haven't used the feature (or in case you forgot how to use it), here's how to make calls from Hangouts: Look for the new phone icon in Gmail, or for the new "Call a phone" menu item in Google+ and the Chrome extension.
New Google Maps App
The company also launched a new version of the Google Maps app for Android smartphones and tablets. A new version for the iPhone and iPad is coming. Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps, called it a "new mapping experience that makes exploring the world and getting to the places that matter to you a lot faster and easier."
Google is promising enhanced navigation with the new app, as well as reviews, Zagat and discount offers from national brands like Macy's and Toys 'R' Us.
"One important change you should know about is that Latitude and check-ins are no longer part of the new Google Maps app, and will be retired from older versions on August 9," Graf said. "We understand some of you still want to see your friends and family on a map, which is why we've added location sharing and check-ins to Google+ for Android (coming soon to iOS)."
Image credit: Google/Gmail, Artist's concept.