A Morning with Google+ Event Highlights: SMS and Location Sharing in Hangouts, New Features for G+ Photos

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conferenceAbout an hour ago, the Google+ team held an event where Vic Gundotra discussed the past, present, and future of various products tied in some way to Google+. While the much anticipated Google Nexus 5 was not announced (sorry guys), we learned more about the growing momentum of Google+, changes to the Google Hangouts experience, and additions to Google+ Photo tools.

Growing Momentum of Google+:

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Google+ has seen a tremendous increase in users. There are now 540M 30-day active users now, up from 390M at this year’s Google I/O. Similarly, there are now 300M active users “in the stream,” up from 190M at I/O 2013.

Along with the increased overall Google+ usage, photo uploads have gone up dramatically. There are now 1.5 billion photos uploaded every week to Google’s servers.

Since July, there have been 20 major updates to the overall Google+ experience. Continuing this momentum of product growth and updates, there are 18 new features today announced for Hangouts and Photos.

New Additions to the Google Hangouts Experience:

The Google Hangouts experience is multifaceted. It includes features like Hangouts on Air, the Hangouts mobile app, and Hangouts video chat. The Hangouts on Air experience has been updated with new features for hangout planning, promoting, and inline conference management. These tools allow event leaders to give users a dedicated landing page while waiting for the event, as well as giving event leaders dedicated controls while in the hangout itself to mute or drop certain participants.

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The Hangouts video chat experience was also bolstered. Now, Hangouts video chat defaults to HD quality on all devices, and the Auto Awesome effect has been extended to live video. The effect brightens up faces during instances of back lighting, even if it means increased video noise, and there are a bevy of additional video filters.

Lastly for Hangouts, and by far most interestingly, Google is issuing a dramatic update to its Hangouts mobile app. SMS integration, which has been long since rumored, is finally here. The update also brings animated GIF support and a nifty location sharing feature. Location sharing works with a simple “place button,” which injects your location via Google Maps.

Dramatic Updates to Google+ Photos:

Vic started his segment on Google+ Photos by talking about the problems with modern day digital photography. Now that we have access to virtually unlimited amounts of storage, it’s not uncommon for folks to take hundreds of photos per day. Thus, storing, sorting, editing, and telling a story with all of these images becomes quite burdensome. Google+ Photos aims to solve some of these problems.

Google hopes to solve some of your f/stop blues by giving you an online repository with full-resolution image storage. This contrasts with other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which automatically downsize images. Furthermore, automatic image uploading, which has been available on Android for some time, is now coming to iOS as well.

The next photography problem that Google hopes to solve relates to sorting and finding your images. Now, Google+ will automatically save and organize your images by sifting through your photos and boosting the visibility of “treasured” photos featuring important people, less blur, and duplicate removal. Further, Google has made finding your images easier than before by enhancing their “Computer Vision” technology. The software can now recognize even more keywords such as “Vespa,” “concert,” and so on—and you can even search your and your circles’ pictures.

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Google’s photo editing offerings were also given an overhaul today. Google realizes that not everyone has time to edit every photo, so there needs to be a spectrum of options available to users looking to edit their work. If you have limited editing time available, there’s Auto Enhance. If you have a few minutes, there’s Snapseed. And if you have “hours,” there’s the Nik Collection.

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Auto Enhance was given a new option, allowing users to dial it up or down at will. The option allows users to turn it off or set it to low or high, and this can be controlled on an album-by-album basis. For those with a little more time, Snapseed has added a new filter for faux HDR images, which claims to be the first pixel edge contrast implementation (rather than tone mapping) done on a mobile device. Finally, the for-pay Nik Collection has a new feature called Analog Efex Pro, which emulates the look and feel of classic camera and lens combinations.

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Auto Awesome was also given an overhaul. There are now three types of effects for still images: Auto Awesome Motion, Auto Awesome Action, and Auto Awesome Eraser. Motion is what has been available for some time now, and it takes various still images and converts them into animated GIFs automatically. Action takes still frame action shots and blends them together for a very pleasing motion effect. And Eraser, as you would expect, can remove unwanted subjects from your still images.

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Auto Awesome was also extended to video. Videos are now automatically processed, and the feature adds music and automated scene cuts that are in time with the music. And if you’d like to tweak the output, you can manually select highlights, movie type, and movie length.

While many of us were hoping for a stealth Nexus 5 / KitKat announcement, today’s updates to Photos and Hangouts are bound to be well received. And for SMS integration, it’s about damn time.

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What do you think of today’s updates? Are you still bummed that there’s no Nexus 5 today, or will the Hangouts update hold you over for now? Let us know in the comments section below!

Those who wish to watch the full video can do so below:

The fun starts at around the 12 minute mark.

Update: Google has now uploaded an official blog post with more details!


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