Google+ Enhances Hangouts, Photo Tools

Google+ Hangouts adds location sharing, and photos and videos get slick new editing tools.
Google Nexus 7, Chromecast: Visual Tour
Google Nexus 7, Chromecast: Visual Tour
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Google+ launched a number of updates for its video chat and messaging tool, Hangouts, and its photos feature at an event on Tuesday. According to the company, the updates have already started rolling out and will continue over the next several days.

Google+ also revealed new details about its user base. According to the company, Google+ has 540 million active users -- counting log-ins through Gmail -- and 300 million monthly active users who visit the website or application directly. Vic Gundotra, SVP at Google, added that users upload 1.5 billion photos per week.

"The Google+ community is growing faster than we ever could have imagined," Gundotra said. "Today's updates are our way of saying 'thank you' -- we hope they save you time and help you share your story."

Hangouts for Android now supports location sharing and SMS, the company said. This lets you send a map of your current location instead of finding and typing in an address. It also lets you send and receive SMS instead of switching between apps. Animated GIFs now play inline.

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Google+ also made changes to its video calling feature: Users can now view it in full-screen mode across mobile and desktop, and it fixes and enhances webcam lighting automatically, the company said. The Android app and video calling features will be available in a few days.

The most significant updates Google+ launched are to its photos and videos. "Photos and videos capture life's most precious moments, but it's way too hard to save, organize, edit and share your stuff," Gundotra said. "Google+ can make things easier, automatically."

The social network is launching full-size backups and background syncs for iOS as you take photos. Before, iOS users' photos were only backed up if you had the Google+ app open. Google+ is updating its search feature, too: If you're looking for a picture, type in a search term and find matching items in your library. You can search your images, plus images that members of your circles have shared -- even if the images aren't tagged, Gundotra said.

In addition, Google+ announced a few new photo editing features. You can now dial auto-enhance features up or down, or, if you use another photo editing tool, choose to exempt an album entirely.

Snapseed, a mobile editing app for photos, includes a new high dynamic range filter, called HDR Scape. HDR imaging typically requires multiple photos to create its effect, but HDR Scape delivers the same results with a tap, the company said.

Last, Google+ unveiled a new Auto Awesome Movie video feature that turns a user's photos and video clips into a short video with audio overlay. You can share this movie as is or edit it yourself to customize it further by changing the theme, duration, clips, sound or filters, the company said. Google's Auto Awesome feature gets two other updates, too: a strobe effect for photos that freezes movement in a timeline and "Eraser," which lets you edit out something in the background of an image -- such as a group of people who interrupted your shot -- if you don't want it there.

The photo and video updates will be available to users this week, Gundotra said, and Auto Awesome Movie will work on certain devices with Android 4.3 and higher.