No big-bang Apps news at I/O, but some announcements merit attention

Improvements to Gmail, Drive, Plus and Hangouts are relevant for Apps customers

By , IDG News Service |  Enterprise Software

Another potentially significant announcement at I/O was that Google has standardized on the Hangouts service for chats, audio calls and video meetings across all Google services and devices. This will replace Google Chat, Google Talk and Google Plus Messenger. The new Hangouts functionality is now in preview for Apps for Business and Apps for Education customers. It builds on an announcement made earlier this month about a new Hangouts application for remote desktop access. That remote access feature lets users control someone else's computer while video chatting with them, which could be particularly useful when helping someone troubleshoot a computer problem.

In addition, an announcement at I/O about improvements to the Google Plus social network, including a redesign of its interface, could be of interest to Apps administrators who have turned that service on for their users. Google Plus isn't officially part of Google Apps, which means it's not subject to the uptime guarantees and other terms that govern the suite's core applications. However, since August of last year, Google has been adding features for Apps administrators and for people who use it at work, and it's expected that at some point Google Plus will be formally added to the Apps suite.

"Inside the enterprise, there's a lot of value in all the Plus features, but there are concerns, the number one being that Plus isn't an official part of Apps for Business," said Tom Austin, a Gartner analyst who attended I/O.

Austin was struck by the fruits of the ongoing efforts at Google, spearheaded by CEO Larry Page, to streamline and unify the company's product roster and provide a consistent, single, integrated cloud experience. "It's one experience, one set of tools. They all work with each other," he said.

Austin also sees great potential value for enterprises in Google's focus on automated "personal assistance" features as provided by services such as Google Now. This type of technology can make workers significantly more efficient, productive and effective, he said.

"It can help them prioritize their day, pay attention to the right things and ignore the toasts popping up on email," he said. "It can help people to focus and concentrate to find relevant information they didn't know they needed to have. I'm thrilled Google is heading down this path."

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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