– Oct 16, 2020 8:47 pm UTC
The company’s latest blog lays out future plans for its suite of messaging services, which includes stripping features out of Google Hangouts as we head toward its eventual demise and the promotion of Google Chat to being the main messaging product.
Since it can be hard to keep track of the dozen-or-so messaging products Google has released over the years, before we get started, here’s a glossary of the Google messaging apps that will be referenced in this article.
OK, now that we’re all on the same page (right? everyone?) the first bit of news in the blog post is that Google Chat will go live for consumer accounts “starting in the first half of 2021.” The service started as a business-focused G Suite app (G Suite is now called “Google Workspace”), so access to Google Chat originally required you to pay for G Suite. But in 2021, it will be free for everyone. Google says it wants a “smooth transition” from Google Hangouts to Chat, and it will “automatically migrate your Hangouts conversations, along with contacts and saved history.”
With the rise of Google Chat, Google Hangouts is going to die. Google initially announced this all the way back in 2018, and now we’re getting more details about the service’s slow shutdown and transition plans for the services that rely on it. We’ve already seen Hangouts lose location sharing and SMS support, and in the blog post, Google announced that phone calls, Google Fi support, and Google Voice support will soon be stripped away from the service.
Google Messages only has an Android app and a Web app. The Messages Web app currently works by forwarding data from your phone, so your phone needs to be on for it to work, and you have to log in by scanning a QR code from your phone. Google notes that Fi users will be able to use Web Messages “even when their phone is off,” so it sounds like normal login functionality will finally come to the service.
Google Voice is also losing Hangouts integration this month. Voice has its own phone apps and a Web app, and you’ll soon need to use those.
The death of phone calls in Google Hangouts is apparently because “new telecommunications regulations are being introduced in the EU and US beginning in 2021.” Google doesn’t explain what these new regulations are, but the timing lines up with an FCC mandate for VoIP services to include location with 911 calls by January 2021.
This is all very reminiscent of the other big Google shutdown that’s going on right now: the transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. While YouTube Music is nowhere near ready and Google Music users can expect to lose loads of features, Google Chat is actually pretty good as a Hangouts replacement. For whatever reason, I already have access to it on my consumer Google account, and I’ve been free to message my existing Hangouts contacts. There aren’t any showstopping missing features, and the UI is modern and straightforward. It’s not ready yet mostly due to transition issues. I can’t participate in group chats, and I can’t add new contacts, just a certain number of my contacts have been flagged as Chat compatible. The core messaging looks great, though, and if both people are on Chat, you get great features like editing messages. It’s by no means a competitive service compared to messaging ecosystems that don’t get rebooted every two years, but if you just want to send messages and pictures back and forth across all your devices, it’s fine.
While Hangouts is going to lose more features as soon as this month, we still don’t have a final shutdown date for the service.
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Google Hangouts, Messaging apps, Gmail, Google Workspace
World news – THAT – Google Chat goes free in 2021, while Hangouts loses features this month