A little over a month ago, Google issued a slew of updates for various first party Android apps. Most notably, Search, Maps, Keep, and YouTube received major functional changes. These updates brought Waze integration to Google Maps, picture-in-picture to YouTube, additional and improved cards to Google Now, and location-aware notes in Google Keep. Today, Google has begun rolling out another round of updates for Hangouts, Voice, Search, and Gmail.
At the time of the last round of updates, Google Hangouts also received an update. However, there were no major user-visible changes at that time. Thankfully, an update being rolled out today finally eliminates a major sore spot for many users ever since the app’s emergence as a Google Talk replacement. This is, of course, the lack of contact status indicators. On previous builds of Hangouts for Android, one could never really know whether their conversation partners were online. Sure, users could see if their recipients had actually viewed their sent messages. However, there was no real way to know if unviewed messages were due to contacts being offline or being just plain unresponsive / inactive. This was a bit odd, given that contact status indicators were available in Hangouts for the web. Thankfully, today’s update brings the aforementioned functionality to the Android app. Still yet to happen, however, is any sort of integration with Google Voice that was rumored some time ago.
On the topic of Voice, Google’s call routing service also received an update to its Android app today. Previously, Google Voice lacked the ability to natively send out SMS short code text messages. While the previous build would reroute the message through the native text messaging app and still manage to send out the message to the desired short code recipient, this would then be sent from your native (telecom carrier) number rather than your chosen Google Voice number. Naturally, this could lead to unwanted privacy issues for those who never share their native numbers, and instead rely exclusively on Google Voice. Thankfully, the newest version of Google Voice has addressed this issue and now allows for SMS short code messages to be sent directly from your Google Voice number.
Next up is Google Search, which received several new feature additions in today’s update. Perhaps most significantly, today’s update has brought with it location-aware websites. In other words, travelling to certain locations will prompt Google Now to display websites related to your location. In addition, you are now able to set reminders based on product release dates. Another new feature is that the flight status card is now able to view flight information in real time. Additionally, Google Now has integration with smart TVs, it can receive car rental reservations from Gmail, and it can tell friends and family when they’ve left work. The last feature, however, is gradually rolling out to Google Search users.
Last but certainly not least, Gmail received a substantial update today. The biggest change in today’s update is the incorporation of Google’s acclaimed Card UI, leading to a much cleaner conversation view. In for the ride, today’s update also brings checkmarks for multiple message selection, as well as the ability to see right from your inbox whether account sync is enabled. This way, you won’t miss that important email just because your phone didn’t sync with the servers yet.
Today’s round of updates bring many important and much needed features to many of Google’s core first party Android apps. Which of these new features is most important to you? Personally, I think the Hangouts status indicator update stole the show, as this should have been implemented from the start. I guess it’s better late than never, though. Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
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