Google has been a long-time competitor in the world of instant messaging and communication apps. Yet, as anyone knows who has tried to keep up with Google’s constant launches of new video calling and chat apps and shuttering of old ones, the tech giant has had difficulty choosing a stable of products and sticking with it. Communications platforms like Google+, Google Talk (also called Gchat) and the recently retired Google Allo have all fallen victim to Google’s penchant for replacing, rather than improving, old platforms.
The video calling and chat product Google Hangouts is the latest to get this treatment, although in this case Google is keeping the name and splitting Hangouts into a messaging platform called Chat and a video conferencing platform called Meet. We won’t exactly be comparing Google Hangouts Chat vs. Meet in this post (it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges since one is now a text-based messaging platform and the other is a video calling platform). But we will be asking how these products differ from the current Hangouts and what the change means for users.
Classic Google Hangouts: The Basics
Hangouts was first introduced as part of the Google+ social media offering and became a standalone product in 2013. The classic version of Hangouts is a simple, easy-to-use social-focused communication product that offers video calling, phone calls, and chat.
The classic Hangouts platform is directed at casual social users.
Classic Google Hangouts can operate on multiple browsers and hardware/software platforms, including Linux and macOS. Users of Hangouts can use it to make voice and video calls, calls to cell phones and landlines, send text messages, participate in a group chat, or send photo messages. The classic Hangouts platform is directed at casual social users, as evidenced by the platform’s homepage, which declares, “Get started by calling or messaging a friend below.” The WebRTC-based video calling functionality allows video calls between up to 25 people at a time.
Hangouts Chat Vs. Meet
Google declared way back in 2017 that it was splitting Hangouts into two different platforms and that Hangouts would be designed for business users, rather than casual chats between friends. Google developers have integrated certain features of Google Voice into both products to give them a competitive edge while attempting to maintain the familiarity of classic Hangouts. The Hangouts Meet and Chat products, despite the “Hangouts” prefix, are quite different from each other in functionality.
Hangouts Chat is Google’s business-focused instant messaging service, and has backward compatibility with the classic version of Hangouts, letting those moving from Hangouts to Hangouts Chat retain their contacts and chat history. Hangouts Chat provides users with the ability to create virtual rooms for collaboration, and, like classic Hangouts, is included as part of G Suite. Hangout Chat brings bots to the collaboration table and provides bot support for popular collaboration and CRM applications such as Trello. It also presents organizations with the ability to use its embedded API to build their own custom bots.
Google Chat has some features reminiscent of platforms like Slack that make it especially useful for teams.
As might be expected of a service designed with businesses in mind, Chat dovetails with Google’s other platforms, such as Drive and Docs, allowing users to easily share and view documents and photos in Chat. Google has also promised a powerful search function that lets users comb through their Chat history for specific keywords. As might be expected of a company looking to build something more like a full-service collaboration platform than a collection of apps, Google Chat has some features reminiscent of platforms like Slack that make it especially useful for teams. For instance, its “Rooms” feature lets users group individuals into chat rooms by project. Rooms may contain multiple threaded conversations and notify users when they are @mentioned.
Like Chat, Hangouts Meet also comes as part of G Suite, and like Chat, it’s also fine-tuned for the business world. The platform is designed around meetings you schedule on your Google Calendar simply by adding participants and clicking “add video call,” which places a clickable link in your calendar meeting. In an attempt to streamline the video calling experience and to keep participants’ attention on the video call, Meet doesn’t have a chat function–you’ll need to use Hangouts Chat for that.
As a competitor to Microsoft’s Skype Room Systems, Google offers the Hangouts Meet kit.
Meet does have other features now expected of any substantive video calling platform for business users: a call-in number for those on phones, screen sharing, and meeting recording. However, the service only allows users to view up to eight video feeds at one time, and won’t show meeting chat (via Hangouts Chat) and participants’ video feeds simultaneously. As a competitor to Microsoft’s Skype Room Systems, Google offers the Hangouts Meet kit, a hardware offering that allows Meet users to initiate and manage meetings via a simple touchscreen controller.
What Does This Mean for Users?
Google’s decision to replace classic Hangouts with Hangouts Chat and Meet is consistent with the company’s constant changes of direction when it comes to communications apps. This time, however, it all makes sense…sort of. Google has left Duo alone to act as its social video chat app (and, to help the app replace the classic Hangouts, expanded the possible number of video call participants from two to eight), and seized on Hangouts, which was already integrated into G Suite, as its business brand. This means that those currently using Hangouts to chat with friends will want to move over to Duo, and those using classic Hangouts for business meetings will want to switch to Hangouts Meet before Google phases out the old product. While no date is set yet, Google is already removing the option to use classic Hangouts for some users, and will likely do away with it altogether in early 2020. If you use G Suite for business and rely on Google for your video conferencing needs, it’s not a matter of Google Hangouts Chat vs. Meet: you’ll need them both.