The future of the telephone may be in jeopardy, or at least in some form of danger. Why? Google
. The company has allowed US-based users to make telephone calls
to the United States and Canada via Gmail for a few years now, and it's about to extend that in a big way. Recently, with a Gmail
overhaul, the ability to make outbound calls vanished. And Google heard the outcry. So now, it's back -- and better. Calls to the US and Canada are now free from all countries where Hangouts calling is available. And international rates remain super, super low.
Today's launch also improves the desktop calling experience in a number of ways. For example: you can add multiple phone numbers and video participants to the same call; and you can play sound effects (like applause or laughter) with the Google Effects app.
To make a call from Hangouts, just look for the new phone icon in Gmail, or for the new "Call a phone" menu item in Google+ and the Chrome
extension. And of course: if you haven't yet tried Hangouts in Gmail, you can always click your profile photo in the chat list and select "Try the new Hangouts."
Making calls from Hangouts is rolling out over the next couple of days. Google has also made clear that Hangouts, not Gmail, is the future of Google Voice. That's a double-edged sword. This could enable calling in far more than North America soon, but it's clear that Google is pushing Hangouts due to how tightly it is integrated with Google+. Without social, Google fears for its future, and if you aren't a fan of Google+... well, good luck avoiding it.