Google is making massive changes to Hangouts.
After what feels like years without significant updates, the company announced a total overhaul of the messaging app. In an effort to make Hangouts more business-friendly, Google is splitting the service into two separate apps: Hangouts Meet, a videoconferencing app, and Hangouts Chat, a Slack-like messaging app designed for teams.
Meet, which is starting to roll out now, is a revamped version of Hangouts’ video calling features, with a few new additions designed for businesses. Like the old Hangouts, it supports video calls of up to 30 people and participants can join via their desktop or the mobile app.
But the interface has been completely redesigned from the old version Hangouts, with an updated look that makes it easier to see everyone on the call. Google says it’s also greatly improved the process for joining meetings, which it describes as the most important goal with the new app.
“Simply start your meetings with a shared link — no accounts, plugins, downloads or hassles,” Scott Johnston, director of product management for for Hangouts writes. “If you’re dialing in from a conference room, your laptop or using the dedicated mobile app, just a few clicks and you’re in.”
For enterprise subscribers, each meeting invitation is also accompanied by a dial phone number so remote participants can dial into meetings while on the go.
While anyone with a Gmail account can use Meet, Hangouts Chat is just for Google’s enterprise users. Essentially a full-on Slack competitor, the service allows teams within organizations to chat and supports a variety of third-party integrations, including bots and other productivity apps. Google also created its own bot for the app, which will schedule meetings on your behalf.
So if Meet and Chat are built for business, what’s going to happen to the consumer version of Hangouts? Google’s strategy around messaging, like so many of its other services, has been somewhat confusing. In addition to Hangouts, the company has chat app Allo and video calling app Duo, both of which launched last year.
Google is also in the midst of overhauling Android’s native messaging app, with an update that will bring the experience up to par with iMessage and other apps.
That may sound like a lot of redundant messaging services but the strategy appears to be this: refocus Hangouts, with its deep ties to Gmail and other productivity apps used by the company’s enterprise users, to a more business-friendly experience while positioning Allo, Duo (and soon Android Messages) as the consumer-oriented experiences.
This strategy also makes sense given that Google’s entry into the enterprise communication space comes as Slack’s competition has started to heat up. Microsoft also recently launched its own competing service, Microsoft Teams, and Slack just introduced its enterprise service for large organizations.