With a set of massive changes planned for the near future, Hangouts is set to find a proper place as an enterprise-focused communications platform. Google just announced sweeping changes to its G Suite enterprise tools, and chief among them is big improvements and restructuring of Hangouts to work best for business.
It breaks down into two distinct products that Google calls "an evolved Hangouts purpose-built for teams," called Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, that are new integrated pieces of G Suite and also a direct shot at Slack and Microsoft Teams.
Hangouts Meet is solely a video messaging experience aimed at making it easy as possible to get remote workers in the same room together. Google claims its Hangouts Meet experience is even smoother, faster and lighter on computer resources, letting you run 30-person video conferences. As before you can start conferences by just sending a link — and people can dial in from phones if needed. Meet of course integrates with G Suite accounts to pull in information from Calendar so everyone's on the same page.
Hangouts Chat is a complete overhaul of the Hangouts experience, bringing in much of the design and smarts we see today on the consumer side with Allo. Hangouts Chat lets your company create direct message and group chats for projects or teams, once again including G Suite integration for sharing files from Drive and Docs, including photos and videos directly in the conversation. Powerful search keeps everything within reach.
Google then of course sprinkles in some AI to Hangouts Chat, including the ability to support third-party bots and scripts right in-line with conversations. There's also a headline feature called "@meet," a Google-powered bot that processes natural language to automatically schedule meetings via Meet and Calendar. The revised interface and features of Hangouts Chat will be found on the web, Android and iOS with native clients for each platform.
To round out today's business-focused announcements, the G Suite enterprise tools are also getting big upgrades to Google Drive, a new add-ons platform for Gmail and a final price and general availability for the collaborative Jamboard screen at $4999.
So where does this leave Hangouts for consumers? The end may be near.
This full-on refresh of Hangouts is exciting from the perspective that Google has clearly ignored the aging and bifurcated platform for years, but what does this mean for individuals who want to keep using the chat and video call platform? Google naturally is focusing on the business aspects here, but there is no mention of what this may mean for the future of Hangouts as a consumer-ready app.
We've seen the slow — but steady — progression of new design and features for chat and video move from Hangouts to Allo, Duo and Android Messages, and with these sweeping business-only Hangouts changes, this could signal that the final move of Hangouts out of the consumer space is near. A Google statement given to The Verge indicates that there will be a free tier for anyone to use, but doesn't clarify what restrictions or features will be implemented and how (if at all) it will be tuned to consumer functions — we don't want to be using a free tier of an enterprise app, we want a proper consumer version.
If Google does decide to open up this new design and some features to regular Google users, it'd be a real treat for all of us who have dealt with the lackluster Hangouts experience for years.