Google split Hangouts into two new apps. Meet is for face-to-face conversations that will seek to take on Skype, Slack and Teams.
Google isn't going to sit back and let Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other popular collaboration tools hog all the glory and market share. As part of the effort to bolster the company's G Suite, Google has repurposed its Hangouts application into a real-time video and chat tool. There are two components: Hangouts Chat is essentially a full-blown competitor to Slack, offering teams a place to host all their work conversations.
Then there's Meet, which is for those times when a face-to-face conversation will do better. The app prematurely leaked before Google was ready to make the big reveal at its Cloud Next conference in March 2017. But now that it's here, we can take a closer look at what it offers and how it will try to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Hangouts, but better
I got a brief demo on the convention floor at Google Cloud Next in San Francisco. One improvement that Googlers emphasized was in the call quality of Meet compared to the old Hangouts. That app had long been dinged as having subpar video performance and wasn't the smooth experience you'd expect from a company with the resources of Google.
The experience in my brief time with Meet was quite good. It reminded me of Duo, Google's consumer-focused video platform that itself was an improvement over Hangouts. Google is clearly going in the right direction here. You're provided with a code by the meeting organizer, and once you punch that in you're able to join right in with the video call.
That advantage alone should make it attractive, as other competing services can sometimes place a labyrinth in front of the communication process. There's a call-in number so someone can dial in if they're only able to access via mobile and can't participate with a video chat. There's no need to create an account or install a plugin. Users can also join meetings from Google Calendar events. Up to 30 people can join a call.
In the announcement post, Google uses the word "frictionless" over and over to drive home that point ̶ this isn't the old Hangouts. Setting up a quick video chat is in Google's DNA ̶ during a session discussing in-house collaboration, Google product manager Andrew Toy said one of the things he was most impressed with when first joining Google was how quickly and efficiently the company can setup a video call to discuss pertinent issues. Google clearly hopes some of that mindset will trickle down to those investing in G Suite.
The technology should also leverage Google's Chromebox for Meetings hardware, which are dedicated Chrome OS devices that can host video conferences. The app itself can help you test a device's camera, microphones and speakers ahead of a call.
The Hangouts Meet app is now available for iOS and Android. Those who want to get their hands on the companion service, Hangouts Chat, may have to wait a while. It's only available for the Early Adopter Program, which G Suite administrators must apply to join.
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