Google’s Hangouts is pretty much a mess at this point. With the recent release of Google Allo and the refresh of Voice, the service has stood in a pretty awkward place while seemingly being ignored by Google and getting stripped of features users may have found useful (I can’t speak for myself, however). Luckily, this whole time Hangouts was struggling, Google was working on a solution, and today during an event, the company announced the separation of Hangouts into ‘Meet’ and ‘Chat.’
Our customers have told us it should be effortless for them to connect over video and that chat should be more collaborative, so we’re evolving Hangouts to focus on two experiences that help bring teams together and keep work moving forward: Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat.
Basically, Google is turning Hangouts into the productivity/enterprise service it was intended to be. Google’s focus on enterprise has been met with some disappointment by users as a decent Slack/Skype solution has never been offered. But with the new separation of Hangouts, it looks like this is about to change.
Starting with Hangouts Meet, Google is finally offering a good alternative to using Skype or GoToMeeting by allowing users to start video calls and have up to 30 participants who can join via a simple link – “no accounts, plugins, downloads or hassles.” The interface looks pretty clean according to the above preview, so at least you won’t have much clutter getting in your way.
You’ll also be able to join a meeting by a dial-in phone number. If you aren’t formally invited, this may be a nice alternative. In addition, if you haven’t received an invite at all, you can “knock” and ask to join the meeting. Stupid stuff like this may come in handy come the future.
Deep integration with G-Suite is also present for Meet to allow a more creative and productive workflow to take place, while apps for iOS, Android, and the web will let participants join meetings. It’s available starting today, with enterprise users getting a more extensive feature set soon.
Touching on Hangouts Chat, Google hopes to bring a new Slack alternative by incorporating G-Suite plugins and (you guessed it) artificial intelligence.
Beginning with the former, integration with Google Docs, Drive, and more are present so users of Chat can exchange data. It’s very similar to how Slack and even Microsoft Teams works, but since so many businesses already use Google’s suite of productivity features, Chat will likely be a natural addition to their workflow.
Regarding the latter, Google is basically opening Chat up to the world by letting developers program “app scripts.” In other words, the company’s letting people make AI-powered bots to make using the platform easier and less hassle-filled. Google’s kicking things off with their own bot (no, it’s not the Assistant) called @meet which can schedule meetings for participants within a grouped or strung chat, two features that will land at launch. It’s unclear exactly how useful this will be, but considering Google’s AI efforts, it may be well worth its use.
In addition, Chat’s interface looks a lot like your typical messaging application, with a column of conversations on the left and a full conversation view on the right. It also sports a clean and minimal design which looks rather pleasing to use already. Of course, things will probably change before it goes live entirely, but for now, it looks rather nice.
Chat will be available in the near future, with G-Suite users able to apply to test the service via Google’s Early Adopter Program. Those who aren’t G-Suite members will be able to use Chat as well as a freemium tier will be introduced at launch.
With today’s news, the future of Hangouts looks bright. I say thank God Google didn’t just kill it off because consumers didn’t like it that much. Otherwise, they would’ve missed this opportunity.