Hangouts is one of the most popular messaging apps around, it might not be as popular as WhatsApp, Viber or Facebook Messenger, but it's popular nonetheless. That being said, Google had introduced two apps which are supposed to replace Hangouts in a way, Google Allo (messaging) and Google Duo (video chat). These two apps have been available in the Google Play Store for quite some time now, and even though they've managed to gather quite a few downloads thus far, it's still too early to say whether they'll be successful for Google. The company had announced a while back that Hangouts will still be around, though that its focus will be on enterprise, and the company seems to be trying to push consumers towards Google Allo and Duo.
That being said, Google continues to improve their Hangouts app for Android, as a new update just landed, and it brings along a really useful feature. Hangouts 14 has just landed, and it adds app shortcuts, a feature from Android 7.1 Nougat. You're getting shortcuts for starting a new text chat, or a new voice / video call, as you can see in the provided image. Now, this feature is very convenient because you can activate either of these three actions directly from your homescreen or an app drawer, without the need to launch Hangouts' main screen first, and then searching for what you need. Do keep in mind that the 'Choose Account' picker will pop up if you have multiple Hangouts accounts on your device, which can be quite annoying and is one additional step to get you where you need to be, we hope Google will fix this with a new update soon, as the default account should be activated, of course.
It is also worth mentioning that the 'Chat' shortcut does not know the difference between a Hangouts conversation and SMS. In addition to all this, the 'New Group' option is now a part of the general 'New Conversation' interface, while the 'People & Options' are split into two. This update does not bring us support for image keyboards nor sending GIFs, but you can expect such features to become available soon as well, we're quite surprised Google did not include those features in this update.