Google adds voice to Hangouts, bringing calls back to Gmail

Google announced on Tuesday that it has reintroduced the ability to make calls from Gmail, thanks to a new voice-calling feature in Hangouts.

Hangouts is an instant message and video platform available in Gmail, Google+, and in Chrome with an extension, and now people can use the service to make voice calls to the US and Canada from any country with access to Hangouts. 

A phone icon for placing calls will now appear in Gmail, while a new "Call a phone" menu item is available in Google+ and the Chrome extension. For those who haven't tried Hangouts in Gmail, just click the profile photo in the chat list and select "Try the new Hangouts".

Voice calls are free to the US and Canada, and Google revealed on the official Gmail blog that international rates are "super, super low" for calls elsewhere. But that's not all: users can add multiple phone numbers and video participants to the same call - as well as sound effects via the Google Effects app.

Read: Google confirms Google Voice support coming to Hangouts

Calling in Hangouts will roll out over the week. Google said Hangouts was "designed to be the future of Google Voice", so today's update is just the beginning and more features will release soon. Maybe that means Hangouts' mobile apps will update with voice calling next, thus eliminating the need for carriers and phone numbers. Wishful thinking?

Google launched a unified version of Hangouts during Google I/O in May, combining all of Google's chat services into one - except for Google Voice. It wasn't clear why Google forgot Voice, leaving many to speculate about its death. However, Google's Nikhyl Singhal quickly confirmed that Voice support was on its way. He was also the first to say Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice.