Google+ Hangouts has updated its iOS app to include free calling to any phones in the United States and Canada for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users in the U.S.
The new feature, which is part of a Google+ mobile app upgrade package for iOS, was unveiled by Kate Cushing of the Google Android team in a post on Cushing's Google+ page.
"You can now make calls to phones from the iOS app, and calls to the US and Canada are free," wrote Cushing. In addition, users can use the updated app for international calls, but there are fees for those calls using voice call credits that users can purchase from Google.
Google Voice users can also use the updated app to make or receive calls from any of their iOS devices, wrote Cushing. "Outgoing calls will come from your Google Voice number, and incoming Voice calls can be answered from Google+ Hangouts."
One key change that's been integrated in the new app is that incoming calls will no longer stop music from playing on a user's device. "Instead of interrupting your groove, Google+ Hangouts will now temporarily duck your music, then crank the volume back up," she wrote.
Other new features of the updated app give users the ability to send or receive animated GIFs that will automatically play in-line, as well as users now being able to view who is online and reachable in their Google+ Hangouts. Also included are several updates that were added to the Android version of the Google+ Hangouts app back in September, such as easier browsing of your contacts when starting a new Hangout and the inclusion of Hangout invites above your conversations so they're easier to find.
Alex Weisen, another Google Android team member, wrote in a separate Google+ post that the new calling feature is conducted using the device's data plan, as opposed to the Google Voice app, which places calls through a user's carrier network. "The phone calling feature allows you to call actual phones," wrote Weisen. "This could be a land line, a mobile phone, you name it. This isn't just a direct VoIP connection between two people running the app. You can ring billions of phones with this."
The new Version 1.3 of the Google+ Hangouts app for iOS can be downloaded free from the Apple Store.
Users apparently love the ability to use voice for free in Google applications. In May 2013, Google dropped outbound voice calling features for Hangouts in Gmail and Google+ when a new version of the app was released, but the company brought it back in July after users voiced loud complaints about the missing capabilities. The updated service included free calls to the U.S. and Canada from all countries where Hangouts calling is available.
In February 2013, a Google+ Hangout was used by the crew of the International Space Station to take questions from citizens about life in Earth's orbit. It marked the first time that NASA has used a Google+ Hangouts session for an International Space Station mission.