In an effort to boost its online video chat services, Google has updated its Gmail Chat offering to allow users to go beyond simple one-on-one video chats.
Now Gmail Chat will allow simultaneous video chats of up to nine people when the participants log in through their Google+ accounts, according to a July 30 blog post by Fred Brewin, product manager of Google Gmail.
Now called Google+ Hangouts, the improved capabilities replace the old video chat, which was based on peer-to-peer technology, Brewin wrote.
"Hangouts utilize the power of Googles network to deliver higher reliability and enhanced quality," Brewin wrote. "Youll be able to chat with all the same people you did before and, in fact, with Hangouts youll 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."
With the new system, users who participate through their Google+ accounts, and not just through their less-feature-rich Gmail accounts, will gain other additional capabilities through Hangouts, wrote Brewin.
"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 added. "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."
The Hangouts improvements will be rolling out over the coming weeks, Brewin explained.
Up until now, a Gmail user couldn't join a Google+ Hangout from their chat roster in Gmail, according to Google. Previously, they could only participate in chat one-on-one using Gmail Video Chat. Now, under the integrated new system, a Gmail user can start or join a Hangout straight from Gmail.
All participants have to have Google+ accounts, however, to gain all of the new features. If you or the person you're chatting with isn't a Google+ member, you can still only have a one-on-one chat. That chat, however, will now occur in a "Hangout" on screen rather than in an old-style chat view.
With the new integration, these perks that come with Hangouts are now available in Gmail where in the past they were only accessible through Google+.
Google's Gmail Voice and Video Chat have been around since November 2011 when the company unveiled them to expand its email services to users. The features allowed users to converse with and see their contacts on their computers in real time. One big feature of the service at that time was that users could initiate their video chat sessions right from Gmail without moving to another application.
Google launched a similar service, Google Talk Video Chat, for Android mobile smartphone users in April 2011, which provided video and voice chat capabilities to another core group of users.
The company always seems to be adding new services to its Gmail offerings. In May, Google announced that Gmail would again expand the languages it is available in for users, adding Welsh and Latin American Spanish, according to a blog post. Users can select their default language for Gmail using the setting tab. With those additions, the number of supported languages in Gmail stands at 56, according to Google.