By Ellis Hamburger and Dieter Bohn

Skydivers equipped with futuristic glasses live-broadcasted their descent into the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco during last year’s Google I/O. Developers lined up to receive not one, but four free devices costing $300 or more. Google announced the Nexus Q, an exercise in over-produced gadgetry meant to stream music to your home theatre system.

Away from the spectacle, during a quiet “fireside chat” for a product that was not receiving any major updates, Google admitted it had a serious messaging problem — or rather, a messaging app problem. When faced with a question about Google’s fragmented communication tools, director of real-time communications Nikhyl Singhal responded quickly and honestly, as if he’d prepared for the question.

“I think we've done an incredibly poor job of servicing our users here.”

What he didn’t say was that Google had already been working on a solution for a year, and that the results of those efforts were still a year away. Since then, Google’s fragmented messaging story has become Google’s behind-the-times messaging story with apps as diverse as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger grabbing both the spotlight and the market share.

But today, the wait is over as Google introduces a new messaging platform it’s calling Hangouts. It spans Android, iOS, Chrome, and Gmail. It’s a fusion of Google’s strengths in cloud computing, search, and mobile.

It’s also late to the game.

The story of Google Hangouts’ fractured development and eventual launch reveals quite a bit about how the company is changing from a place where tiny projects are initiated at random into one that’s being forced to organize and coordinate across products. At the new “One Google,” major projects require deep collaboration across multiple teams. Hangouts is more than just a way for Google to take on SMS. It could be a core product that stands next to Search, Gmail, and Docs, acting as a key part of Google’s suite of services. Here’s how it came to be... and why it took so long.