This morning, Google+ head Vic Gundotra took the stage for a Google+ event that was somewhat veiled in secrecy. It came out of nowhere, and many users were wondering what Google could have in store for the service. As is the case with most Google events, it combined the expected with the unexpected.
To start us off, Gundotra updated us on some Google+ stats. Since launching to the public in 2011, Google+ now has 540 million monthly active users. Those users help contribute more than 1.5 billion photos every week. Gundotra also noted that Google has shipped 20 updates to Google+ in the past 4 months, and it just shipped 18 updates this morning.
So, what are those updates? The first updates concerned Hangouts - all three of them. The Hangouts app for mobile devices was updated to include location sharing, animated gif support and sms support. Yes, you read that right - you can now integrate your text messages into the Hangouts app so you can get all your messages in one place.
For Hangouts on Air, Google now allows users to plan and promote their hangouts. This is done through the creation of a dedicated landing page very similar to event pages in Google+. When the Hangouts on Air is in session, Google has also added new tools that allow hosts to control the session by boosting volume of participants or even booting some participants altogether.
The final part of the Hangouts family - video calls - has also been improved by making devices output HD video by default. Users can also auto-enhance their Web cam stream.
At the beginning of the event, Gundotra said most of the time would spent on photos and he wasn't lying. Photos are Google+'s bread and butter after all, and it has invested a lot of work to improve almost everything about the photo experience on Google+.
Gundotra started off with an update on Google+'s ability to backup all your photos automatically. Since its launch at Google I/O, Android devices have been able to automatically backup your photos to Google+ even when the app isn't open. iOS users have not been so lucky, but Gundotra says that feature is coming soon to the iPhone.
For highlight and search, Gundotra says that Google's computer vision algorithm has now learned 1,000 more words. In other words, Google can pick out and find more images even if they're not tagged based using only what you tell it. You can also search through photos shared among your circles if you have the necessary permissions.
For photo editing, Google is updating all three of its apps. To start off, auto-enhance has been updated to include controls that allow users to choose between high and low settings. In its mobile app - Snapseed - it's been updated with a new HDR Scape filter that brings true HDR to mobile photos. Finally, The Nik Collection has received a new free update in the form of Analog Efex Pro - a series of filters that replicate the look of classic cameras.
Of course, auto-awesome has also been updated with three new filters - motion, action and eraser. Motion will create automatic gifs from a series of photos, motion will combine a series of photos into a single photo to create a ghost-like trail of movement and eraser will remove all moving objects from the photo.
The big surprise of the event came at the end, however, when Gundotra introduced a new feature called Auto-Awesome Movies. As its name implies, it brings all the tools from the auto-awesome photo filters to video. In other words, Google will now take all the videos you upload to the service and create a movie out of them. Of course, you can also go in and manually edit the videos to create your own custom film set to a number of licensed tracks provided by Google.
Gundotra says that all of the above new Google+ features, except for automatic backup on iOS, are now available on Google+.[Image: Google+/YouTube]