Google Returns Voice Calling to Gmail, Hangouts

Google's latest desktop Hangouts feature came out in May, but its outbound voice-calling capability was missing but promised for future inclusion.

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Google has returned outbound voice calling services to its Hangouts feature in Gmail, Google+ and through the Chrome browser extension after it was temporarily removed in May when Hangouts was updated.

Users complained about the missing voice-calling feature after the May changes, and now Google has put voice calling back, according to a July 9 post by Alex Wiesen, a senior software engineer, on the Official Gmail Blog.

"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!" wrote Wiesen. "Even better: calls to the U.S. and Canada are now free from all countries where Hangouts calling is available. And international rates remain super, super low."

The missing voice-calling feature cropped up quickly after the new Hangouts launch when user complaints posted on Google's blogs and Google+ pages caused the company to respond and promise the re-introduction of the service in the future, according to a May 20 Google+ post by Google product manager Nikhyl Singhal

"Thanks for all of your feedback on last week's Hangouts launch," wrote Singhal at the time. "Today's version of Hangouts doesn't yet support outbound calls on the Web and in the Chrome extension, but we do support inbound calls to your Google Voice number. We're working hard on supporting both, and outbound/inbound calls will soon be available.

"In the meantime, you can continue using Google Talk in Gmail. Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning. Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly," he continued.

Many customers at the time, posted complaints on the Google products forum page, which elicited a quick response from Google Community Manager Matt Bariletti, who reiterated Singhal's promise of a return of the outbound calling feature.

Now that outbound calling has been returned to Hangouts, several other new features have also been introduced in the latest version, wrote Wiesen. Users can now add multiple phone numbers and video participants to the same call, and they can now play sound effects (like applause or laughter) using the Google Effects app during the call, he wrote.

Users can now make a call from Hangouts by clicking the new phone icon in Gmail or clicking the "Call a phone" menu item in Google+ and the Chrome extension, wrote Wiesen. "And of course: if you haven't yet tried Hangouts in Gmail, you can always click your profile photo in the chat list and select 'Try the new Hangouts,'" he wrote.

The new voice calling services from Hangouts has been rolling out over the last few days, according to Wiesen.

When Google updated Hangouts in May, some news outlets, including The Verge, were quick to caution users that if they used the then-new version, they would lose the voice-calling option. "Users might want to hold off on upgrading to Hangouts," The Verge concluded at that time.

In February, 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.