Some Google fans were mighty miffed when Google removed the ability to make voice calls from inside Gmail, but now the feature is back, flying under Google’s Hangouts banner. Instead of just being able to place calls from within Gmail though, users can dial up friends and family while poking around on Google Plus or by using the Hangouts Chrome extension.
This won’t come as much of a shock if you’ve been paying attention to Hangouts history: Google brought the ability to receive VoIP calls to Hangouts by way of Google Voice integration back in May, so it’s only natural that the company would eventually complete the circle and let users make calls, too. Don’t fret if you don’t see the option to place a voice call just yet, as Google says the feature will be rolling out over the next few days.
That initial group of scorned Googlophiles will probably just be happy to have their feature back, but it’s hard not to look at calling within Google+ as a shot across Facebook’s considerable bow. The social giant rolled out its own free VoIP calling service to users in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. earlier this year, but Facebook’s approach was to bake the feature into its Messenger mobile apps. This makes sense considering the nature of the device the apps were running on. However, Google’s most recent Hangout maneuver stands in stark contrast; while there’s apparently been plenty of attention paid to improving the desktop calling experience (users can rope VoIP callers into conversations with video chatters, for instance), none of those improvements appear to have spilled over into Google’s iOS/Android Hangout apps.
Frankly, that’s a shame. Google has already said that Hangouts is “the future of Google Voice,” which is a great sound bite, but the Google Voice experience is in dire need of repair and we’re still waiting for some fixes. I’ve been using Google Voice for years. I still give my Google Voice number to just about everyone I meet. But the sheer convenience of a single number routing calls and messages to all of the phones I’ve got buzzing around my office is offset a bit by the generally lackluster apps (especially the iOS version) and the slow rate of improvement that the service has seen. Hangouts really might be just what the doctor ordered for Google Voice, but the wait is becoming unbearable.