Google targets WhatsApp, BBM and others with Hangouts app for Android, iOS

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) at its I/O developer's conference said it will release a new, standalone Hangouts app that will be available to Android, iOS and Web users. The app will collect text, image and video conversations into one service and essentially represents Google's response to the growth of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber and BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) BBM. Hangouts will replace Google Talk and G+ Messenger.

Google's Vic Gundotra announced the new Hangouts app will essentially collect conversations among two or more people and can support the exchange of text, pictures and video. Gundotra explained the app "is a list of conversations, not contacts," and he said the conversations can last years and can be synched across multiple devices. Indeed, the service can synchronize conversations between Android and iOS devices, but it does not yet support SMS.

"The conversation feels alive," he said. "It really feels like you're in the same room together."

Importantly, the app supports group video conversations "at no charge," and users can initiate a video conversation with the tap of a button.

Google's new Hangouts app is an interesting take on the mobile messaging space, and it represents an expansion of the Hangouts video chatting service that the company introduced with its Google+ social networking offering.

With the Hangouts app, Google is offering an alternative to many of the mobile messaging services that have caught fire in the mobile area. For example, consumers across the globe will send 41 billion over-the-top mobile messages per day by the end of 2013, compared to an average of 19.5 billion peer-to-peer SMS, according to a new forecast issued by research firm Informa Telecoms & Media. This transition will have a dramatic effect on mobile operators' SMS revenues: Researcher Ovum anticipates social messaging apps like Facebook Messenger will cost operators $32.6 billion in 2013, increasing to $86 billion in 2020. 

That Google is taking Hangouts to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS is also notable. Currently, Apple offers video chatting between two people through its FaceTime service, and it separately supports OTT messaging through its iMessage service. Google's Hangouts will essentially combine those two functions into one app.

Further, Google appears to be beating BlackBerry to the punch. BlackBerry earlier this week announced it will takes its BlackBerry Messenger service onto competing platforms, including iOS and Android, this summer. BlackBerry's BBM service supports text and video messaging.

For more:
- see this Google live stream
- see this Verge story

Special Report: Google I/O 2013: Complete coverage

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