Google Hangouts chat users just got a simple new upgrade from Google that will make it a lot easier to determine if their friends are actually available when they "see" them on chat inside the Gmail interface.
Google is bringing back its old "green bubble" icons that will appear next to a user's name in Google Hangouts chat in Gmail to indicate when a user is active and available. Previously, users would see the names of other users but couldn't be sure if they were actually there or were away from their devices. Also added are a new contact search button and a "message snippets" feature. The updates were announced in a May 12 post on the Google Apps Updates Blog.
The green bubble icons will show up in conversation lists in Hangouts in Gmail, according to Google. The displayed contacts will be found in order of most recent chats.
The feature means that there will be "less conversations [that] start with 'Hey, you there?'" according to a post on the Google Enterprise Google+ page.
In October 2013, Google+ Hangouts for Android users got support for location-sharing and Short Message Service (SMS) communications, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Also that month, Google+ Hangouts 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 United States.
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 used a Google+ Hangouts session for an International Space Station mission. Also in February, President Barack Obama used a Hangout two days after his State of the Union speech to answer questions from the American people in what was essentially a virtual fireside chat.
Google+ Hangouts was launched in June 2011, originally as a video chat app that allowed up to 10 users to communicate together in an online session. Later, Hangouts was expanded with a wide range of new features, as Google sought to promote the services.