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Google Hangouts is an instant messaging and video chat platform developed by Google, which launched on May 15, 2013 during the I/O 2013 keynote. Its predecessors include Google Talk — launched on August 24, 2005 — as well as various Google+ social network text and video messaging features. It’s also likely a planned replacement in the future for Google Voice, which would make Hangouts more competitive with other text, video, and voice messengers on the market.

Google Hangouts was once reported to be known as Babel and even leaked out alongside Google Play 4.0 as such. The service retained the code name leading up to its official launch at the Google I/O 2013 conference.

In November 2013, SMS and MMS support was added to Hangouts, allowing it to be set as the default text and picture messaging program on the new Android 4.4 KitKat OS.

Since Hangouts runs parallel to the Google+ social network, its exact user count can technically be skewed to favor it over dedicated messaging apps on the market such as WhatsApp, similar to the situation with Facebook’s Messenger. As of December 2012, though, Google+ is the second-largest social networking site behind Facebook with 500 million users.

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