Google on Monday updated Hangouts for Android to enhance its ease of use, speed, and appearance, following a similar update of the iOS version in late June.
Google Hangouts 4.0 for Android implements Material Design, a design scheme the company introduced last summer. Material Design is essentially a responsive graphical dress code that can be maintained across devices and operating systems through common interface elements and styles.
Google refers to Material design as a "language," though that's an overly aspirational metaphor for a set of agreed-upon standards. Alternative design schemes include Microsoft's Metro and Apple's unnamed iOS 7 and iOS 8 conventions.
The ultimate goal of Material Design is to make apps as intuitive and comprehensible as possible in form and function. Google has already renovated most of its mobile applications, such as Drive, Gmail, Maps, and YouTube, to conform to its interface recommendations.
Google Hangouts is a communications platform, as opposed to a discrete product. It supports instant messaging, SMS, video chat, and VoIP calling through Android, iOS, and Chrome browser clients. It competes, more or less, with Apple's FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and Microsoft's Skype, as well as Google's Messenger app (which some users prefer for its SMS, MMS, and group chat capabilities). It also faces a challenge from Slack, which has become popular for business team communications. At the same time, Slack and Hangouts can be integrated to work together, so they're not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Hangouts 4.0 for Android is faster than its predecessors, said Google product manager Amit Fulay in a blog post, because the company's engineers have been "obsessively fixing bugs and speeding up message delivery." These optimizations also make the app less demanding of battery power, which always seems to be in short supply.
The updated Hangouts includes a redesigned Compose button, a streamlined contacts lists, and a simplified procedure for creating attachments. It now supports Outbound Caller ID with the Hangouts Dialer app, to present the caller's name to those being called. It also includes the ability to receive and reply to group MMS messages in Hangouts via Google Voice. It now also works with Android Wear devices.
Google Hangouts 4.0 for Android is available from the Google Play Store.