Google Unveils Enhancements to Photos, Plus, Maps, Hangouts

Google announced several new features to the company's products and services at Google I/O 2013, its annual developer conference. In addition to music streaming All Access service that TMO covered separately, Google announced enhancements to Google+ for sharing photos, Maps features, and a FaceTime competitor being rolled into Google Hangouts.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts

Hangouts App & Video Chatting

One of the things that Google announced is that the company is breaking its Hangouts service as a standalone app. That app will combine Google+ Messenger (the company's instant messaging service) Google Talk (voice communication a lá Skype, and the video chatting service that originally made Hangouts a hit.

That app will be released for Android, iOS, and from within Google's Chrome browser starting on Wednesday. Note that in the image above, which was posted by google on the new Hangouts site, the company included an iPhone next to the Android devices and Chrome Pixel.

The Hangouts app effectively competes with Apple's FaceTime, as well as iMessage, and voice communications services like Skype. Below is Google's promo video.

Photo Stuff

The photo features in Google Plus now offer tools to make photo editing easier and can even pick out the best shots to display in your Google+ photo streams with the new Highlight tool. Highlight scans through your photos looking for images that are over exposed, under exposed or blurry, and leaves them out of the event albums it builds for you so only your best shots are seen -- and it recognizes popular landmarks along with happy.

Google's Auto Enhance tool analyzes your images and then improves skin tones, removes red eye, corrects white balance, auto-sharpens, and more, with a single mouse click. the company also added an "Awesome" tool that builds collages from your photos, can take a series of burst shots and string them together in an animation, and can build composite faces from a series of images.

Users aren't limited to small image sizes anymore and Google said it now supports full image resolution for big digital images, too. Google bumped up Google Drive storage to 15GB to make room for full-size image backups, and dropped storage caps for all images up to 2048 x 2048 pixels so there isn't any worry of losing photos that are older than 30 days. In comparison, Apple's iCloud Photo Stream caps images at 1,000 and pics that are more than 30 days old auto-delete, too.

Google Maps

Google Maps will become more interactive this summer when new features designed to make finding locations more immersive. The redesigned maps service will include new a new routing system that automatically picks the best directions to destinations, can display and compare public transportation schedules, includes Google Earth views without needing extra applications, better suggestions for location and business searches, better Zagat review support, special offers from local businesses, and more.

For users that log in to their Google account when using Maps will see the locations they frequently visit highlighted so they're easier to find, and locations for general searches, like "coffee shops," stand out thanks to better highlighting.

The new Maps features will be available for the Mac and Windows, along with Android and iOS, although it won't roll out until some time this summer. For now, Google is offering an invitation system for users that want to try out the new features before they're officially available, and you can see a preview that Google set up for the rest of us.

There's also a handy YouTube video showing this stuff.