Say what you want about Google+, but it incubated two great products at Google: Hangouts for video meetings and Google+ Photos. While Photos is still deeply integrated with the social network, Hangouts is starting to grow up and it’s shedding some of its Google+ past today.
Update: Google had given us early access to its blog post about today’s announcement. In it, the company specifically referenced that anybody with a “Google account” could now use Hangouts with needing a Google+ profile. The final copy of the blog post changed that language to “any Google Apps customer account.” We regret the error.
Until now, you had to have a Google+ account to use Hangouts if you were a Google Apps user. Starting today, that requirement is gone. Anybody with a Google Apps account will now be able to start or join a meeting from their desktop or their dedicated Chromebox for Meetings device. For now, however, the requirement is still in place on mobile, but Google says that’s going away soon, too. The only other restriction for those who want to use Hangouts without a Google+ account is that they won’t be able to use Hangout apps other than Screenshare or Chat and that they won’t be able to use Hangouts on Air to broadcast their chats to a larger audience.
“Google Apps customers have been taking advantage of both Google+ and Hangouts for long enough that we recognize the separate use cases for both,” a Google spokesperson told me when I asked about the reason for the change. “The goal of [today's] launch is to make it easier for employees and businesses to communicate by video. Our customers recognize the value of connecting face-to-face and are driving this demand.”
As part of this move, Hangouts is also now coming to Google Apps for Business. While users on Google’s paid accounts could always use Hangouts (assuming their admins allowed it), this change means that Hangouts is now covered by the same SLAs as the rest of Google’s services like Gmail and Drive. Google’s uptime guarantee for all of these services is 99.9 percent. Apps for Business users can now get 24/7 phone support for Hangouts and by the end of the year, Google Apps Vault will support Hangouts as well.
Google is also partnering with a number of other companies to give Hangouts access to their systems. Blue Jeans Networks, for example, will now allow users on its traditional H.323 or SIP-based videoconferencing systems to join video meetings on Hangouts and InterCall will make it easier for its users to join Hangouts through its audio-conferencing bridge. Chromebox for meetings users will now also be able to dial out from their systems to add participants who still use their smartphones for basic audio calls.