Google today announced that it is combining two of its video calling apps, Duo and Meet, into a single platform. Soon there will be just Google Meet, and Google hopes it will be the one calling app users need for just about everything in their lives.
By bringing them together, Google hopes to solve some of the problems with modern communication tools. “What’s been really important is to understand how people make the choice of the tool they are going to use, for what purpose, under what circumstances”, explains Javier Soltero, head of Google Workspace. Our digital lives are filled with a million different chat apps, each with their own rules and standards and their own list of contacts, some for work and some for personal. Google hopes to use Gmail addresses and phone numbers to pull it all together. “It’s really important and powerful to be able to reach you this way,” says Soltero, “and then allow you to decide whether you want to be reached or not, instead of having to manage all these different identities and manage the consequences.”
Soltero preached this idea of ”accessibility” for most of his tenure at Google, and it led to Google integrating Meet and Chat into so many of its other services. It’s a good goal, but it comes at a cost: adding everything to everything has made some Google services cluttered and complicated. You can start a meeting from anywhere! But… do you really want to? Streamlining your communication choices is a good idea, but heaping it all on the loose doesn’t work.
Over the past two years in particular, Meet has evolved into a powerful platform for meetings and group chats of all kinds, while Duo has remained more of a messaging app. Google promises to bring all of Duo’s features to Meet in the future and seems confident it can offer the best of both worlds.
It’s not entirely fair to say that Duo is being killed off, though. The app, which Google originally launched in 2016 as a simple way to make one-to-one video calls, does a number of useful things that Meet doesn’t. For one, you can call someone directly — including their phone number — rather than relying on sending links or that giant Meet button in your Google Calendar invite. Duo has always been more like FaceTime than Zoom in this direction. (Google also launched an iMessage competitor, Allo, at the same time as Duo. Allo didn’t turn out that great.)
As the two services become one, Google is relying on Duo’s mobile app by default. Soon, the Duo app will receive an update that will bring a host of Meet features to the platform; later this year, the Duo app will be renamed Google Meet. The current Meet app will be called “Meet Original” and will eventually be deprecated.
It sounds… confusing, but Google says it’s the best way to go. “The Duo mobile app was very sophisticated, especially under the hood,” says Dave Citron, product manager for Google’s video products. “Especially in emerging markets, where network connectivity was sparse or highly variable.” On the web, it’s different; Meet is the much more developed web-based platform, which therefore forms the basis of the new combined system. But either way, “the idea is 100% functionality,” Citron said, “combined forces, and no user left behind.”
This is another effort by Google to unify some of its previously disparate parts, which makes the suite of Google services more cohesive and sensible. Soltero said as Meet has grown during the pandemic, it’s become the obvious place for Google to focus its voice and video efforts going forward. And he hopes that over time, the Meet brand can mean more than just “meeting.”
It will be difficult for Google to get it right. If it wants to create a cross-platform and versatile platform for audio and video calls, it has to do a lot of little things well. Should every device and every browser tab you’re signed in to ring every time you get a call? (Google says no, and that it’s getting better at recognizing which device you’re actually using and sending calls and notifications to it.) Should you be able to receive calls on your personal and work device at the same time ? (No good answer yet, but Soltero said he’s leading the charge to figure it out.)
Meet is already integrated with so many Google services that it could become a significant competitor to WhatsApp and FaceTime virtually overnight, but only if it can integrate without being boring or complicated.
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