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Google introduces expert gadget advice through live video chat

Customers of the Google Play store now have the option of video chatting with a Google customer service rep.

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    Google customers now have the option of video chatting with a customer service rep if they need help in the Google Play store. Here, a man rides a bike at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.
    Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
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Apple has the Genius Bar. Amazon has Mayday. And now Google has, well, maybe you could call it a virtual genius bar.

Google Play store customers who need help can now fire up a video or voice chat and connect with a customer service rep, who will walk them through the details of different products.

It’s not hard to imagine this feature expanding into a useful tech support service, but it’s not quite there yet. For now, Google service reps can only discuss the smart phones, tablets, and Chromebook laptops sold in the Google Play Store. The reps are there to explain features and help the indecisive choose between different devices, not offer troubleshooting advice or power-user tips.

The service may expand, however. A Google spokesperson told Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch, “We’re in a limited trial of an experimental support feature and gathering feedback, so we aren’t ready to share full plans yet.” Ms. Lunden quotes an anonymous source who says Google wants to bring the virtual genius bar concept to retail stores, where remote Google reps will be able to offer technical support and advice on products.

The live support feature is available through the “Devices” category in the Google Play store. Select the “Help” icon in the upper-right corner, and you’ll see “Video call” nestled below the “Phone” and “Live chat” support options. The service is available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time. It’s worth noting that Google’s customer service reps can only cover certain Google products via chat – they won’t be able to discuss the Nest thermostat, or third-party devices that are sold through the Google Play store.

Google’s live support runs on Hangouts, the tried-and-true video- and text-chatting platform found in Android and in Gmail. In theory, users needing advice on smart phones, tablets, or Chromebooks are connected to a customer service rep just as if they were video chatting with a friend, although the service isn’t guaranteed to be available since it’s still in a test phase.

Back in 2013 Google used the Hangouts platform to build Helpouts, a kind of live video marketplace where users could buy and sell music lessons, technical support, fashion advice, and more over Hangouts video streaming. Google bills the service as “a new way to get expert help and advice when you need it most,” and it’s pretty similar to Google’s new live video support – except that Google’s support, limited though it is for now, is a free service.

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