It may be embarrassing to admit now, but there was a time when email was cool. Before smartphones and Facebook and even text messaging, email was THE way we received important information. And, at the turn of the millennium, the coolest way to email was Gmail.
Google’s first major departure from the search engine game would become the world’s most popular email app and push into new territory by including unrivaled storage, calendars, messaging, and video calls.
It’s the video calling part we’re considering in this post. All Gmail accounts come with a built-in Hangouts video option…but when do we ever use it? Most likely, the majority of your friends and acquaintances use Gmail accounts, but would you ever think to make a video call from Gmail to talk to one of them?
Gmail is currently in the middle of one of the biggest upgrades it has ever received–and yet it still feels like nothing more than email. With the ability to make a video call from Gmail, we should find that Google’s video chat and emailing capabilities integrate seamlessly, making Google video calling our go-to VC choice. Google’s plan for Gmail, however, seems to be a narrow focus on mail, while it chases video initiatives elsewhere.
Unified Communications Video Calling
Convergence has been the byword in technology circles ever since Apple pretty much perfected the concept with the introduction of the iPhone more than a decade ago. Its simple but revolutionary concept was to put everything you’d ever want to access into a single source–the internet, music, video, calendars, email, text, and on and on. That same principle is guiding the current surging popularity of workplace collaboration apps, which kicked off in earnest with the arrival of Slack.
Slack is the iPhone of the office. It ties together all an employee’s internal and external communications, projects, schedules, and to-do lists into a single platform. It has been a disruptor in the truest sense of the word, forcing major tech players including Microsoft and Facebook to produce similar workflow spaces (Skype Teams, for one).
The thing is, Google already had a Slack-like platform beneath the fingertips of millions and failed to capitalize on it. Gmail has been around since 2004, and it has been equipped with a video calling function since 2012, which gives every free account holder a chance to chat together face-to-face–so why is Google forcing us to go elsewhere to make a video call?
Make a Video Call from Gmail Hangouts, Meet, or Duo
Google has been constantly branding and rebranding, packaging and repackaging its video services for years. We’ve been over it all before here at VC Daily, but the search engine giant seems to have been treating video like a sideline interest, at least in financial terms. We’ve had Google Talk, Chat, Voice, Plus, Hangouts, Meet, and Google Duo in the space of just a few years–as recently as May this year Google announced G Suite users would switch to Meet, while the rest of us Gmail users would stay with Hangouts.
While Slack and Microsoft Teams were busy bringing mail, messaging, and video together into a single integrated app, Google was dividing each function into its own platform.
The result is that Gmail is far more email than video conference. Unless you’re using the service as a point of constant contact, like an internal chat app, it’s just a platform for static email–and email has proven to be a productivity killer and a source of office anxiety. Gmail may have redefined email when it was first introduced, but it is now a victim of the asynchronous form of communication it perfected.
And its latest upgrade has done little to realize Gmail’s workplace potential.
The Big Gmail Update
The recent Gmail update covers a lot of ground. Its rollout began in April, and it promises to be the biggest change the platform has ever seen. New features include:
- A snooze button for emails that marks them for later reading
- Automatic smart replies
- Confidential Mode, which requires a code to open emails
- Self-destructing emails, presumably of the Snapchat variety
- AI-assisted mail sorting
- Nudges, which remind you of opened emails that need replies
It’s an impressive list, and one that should let Google reinforce its position as the email provider of choice for millions of people. But why pass up the opportunity to make millions of people linger a little longer on the platform by better incorporating products like Chat and Meet?
Instead, Hangouts remains as a disjointed piece of the puzzle–even though, as we found out in our Appear.in versus Hangouts review, the old dog can still perform all the necessary VC tricks.
Google seems to have missed an opportunity by letting Gmail rest relatively unchanged for so many years and building out new products outside its core. We’re using it more often than we use any other email server, which is the kind of exposure Slack would kill to have. If I’ve just read an urgent email from a colleague, I should be calling him right away from the same Gmail screen. We should all make video calls from Gmail more often, it’s just that Google seems to be taking its email monster for granted and constantly trying to duplicate its potential elsewhere.