May 15, 2013 at 2:01 PM ET
Google+, the tech giant's two-year-old social network, still lags behind Facebook, as well as Twitter and LinkedIn, despite 190 million active users. But the focus at Google's I/O's developer's conference Wednesday wasn't on the size of the social network. Instead, we heard about new photo tools, a redesign, a unified chat service and more.
Since Google snagged Nik Software, maker of several popular photo editing products, last September, we've been expecting to hear a lot more about the tech giant's photo-related features. Short of taking the photos, Google will do everything for you automatically.
Google's Instant Upload feature is now called Auto Back Up. Give Google permission, and it'll automatically upload your mobile photos to the cloud as you take them. You have unlimited storage for "standard" photos (up to 2048px) and up to 15GB of free storage for full-size images.
After the images are uploaded, a tool called Auto Highlight sorts duplicates, as well as blurry and poorly exposed images.
An optional Auto Enhance tool optimizes brightness, contrast, saturation, noise, focus, and other factors.
Auto Awesome kicks into action when you take a bunch of photos in a row (or "in a burst," if you will), creating animated images (GIFs!), confirming smiles in group photos, stitching panoramas, sorting portraits together into photo booth-style arrangements, and turning sets of bracketed exposures into HDR photos.
Hangouts, Google's new communications hub, unifies the video chat service, Messenger, and Google Talk. It will be accessible via Android and iOS apps as well as within Gmail and Google Talk and Chrome.
Hangouts is platform agnostic and syncs messages, no matter what device you're using, and indicates when your friends have read your messages. The hub features support for photos, group chats and a little trick that'll keep you sane: If Google realizes that you are sitting at your desktop and chatting … it will silence notifications on your other devices.
There are now 190 million monthly active users on plus.google.com (and 390 million monthly active users across Google and the Web). Of course, this might be unimpressive to those who noticed that Nielsen Media Research revealed in March that the average U.S. Google+ user spent fewer than seven minutes on the site while the average Facebook user spent well over six hours puttering around the social network.
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