Microsoft has Skype. Apple has Facetime and iMessage. And for Google? It's Hangouts. A singular app for instant messages, text messages, group chat and voice or video calls. If you've never used it, it's actually a pretty compelling service. Seamlessly integrated in to Android and Chrome OS. There's an extension for using in the Chrome browser on desktops. You can use it on iOS. All you need is a device and a Google account.
That's also one of the drawbacks, though, just like every other platform. It's a silo, confined to itself. Hangouts doesn't talk to Skype. Doesn't talk to Facetime. Both you and your friends have to have it. And if they're using BlackBerry or Windows Phone, they're simply out of luck.
But if you use Hangouts, you know of its power. It's simple to chat with groups of people. Easy to see who's read your message and who hasn't.
And if you want to broadcast a group chat for the world to see, it's time for Hangouts on Air. It's tied into YouTube. Just fire it up, chat away, and when you're done, it automatically uploads. (It's what we use for the Android Central Podcast, actually.
Hangouts is still young, and it's still growing. We're waiting for it to integrate with Google Voice. And so we wait and see what Google has in mind Hangouts next.