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2019 Year in Review: Hangouts and Messaging on Google

In 2016 my review of the state of Google's messaging was subtitled "Yes, still Hangouts".  And so I'm a bit surprised to be saying, once again, yes, still classic Hangouts.

Hangouts was originally Google's all-in-one messaging app. It had video calling, text chatting and  SMS text messaging. Now it's a perennial joke that Google seems to spawn new messaging apps every year. But that's a bit tired as Google has clarified its messaging strategy.
  • Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat are video calling and text conversations aimed at businesses. Like classic Hangouts, these are linked to your Google account (currently G Suite only).  Classic Hangouts will be around until consumer users are migrated to Meet and Chat.
  • Duo and Messages are video calling and text conversation for consumer users. They are linked to your phone number and designed for use on mobile, even though they can be accessed in a  web browser.
Ah, but, what about in-product chats? Google Photos now lets you send photos to other users as part of a conversation, YouTube DMs let share and chat about videos (until that feature was removed a few months ago), and you can even chat within a Google Docs file. But none of those are designed for general chatting, even if they are used that way by some folks. Instead they make it easier to share and communicate within that particular Google product. And none have video calling. 

Updates to Classic Hangouts

Despite Google's focus on developing Hangouts Meet and Chat, classic Hangouts actually did get an update this year. You can now report users when you block them. While it's not hugely exciting, it's a long-requested feature. 

With the shutdown of consumer Google+, classic Hangouts video calls lost the few remaining special apps. And, probably not entirely coincidentally, Hangouts on Air live streaming is now gone. 

Eventually consumer users will be migrated to the currently G Suite-only Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat. But for now, classic Hangouts continues on.

Shutdown of Google+ and Hangouts on Air


The sunsetting of consumer Google+ and Google+ API affected Hangouts video calling and Hangouts on Air well. 

The Google+ Hangouts API let developers create apps for use in the old classic Hangouts video call platform. While most of those apps were deprecated in 2017, apps used to add business features and functionality to Hangouts on Air live streams were allowed to continue to run. The older video call interface that could run the apps was only available through Google Calendar Events and Hangouts on Air. 

However, use of those apps - like Control Room and Hangouts Toolbox - required a Google+ Profile. When consumer Google+ and the Google+ API shut down, they no longer functioned.

Google Calendar Events conferencing now use the newer (as of 2015) classic Hangouts video call interface for consumer users, and the new Hangouts Meet for G Suite users.

Hangouts on Air was removed from YouTube Live Events  on August 1st. While YouTube didn't give a detailed reason why, I suspect it was a combination of lack of support for the older classic Hangouts video call interface, loss of the apps, and the impending migration to the new Hangouts Meet. Under those circumstances it probably did not make sense to implement Hangouts on Air in the new YouTube Live Control Room. Hangouts on Air will be missed by those of us who found it to be an easy method of live-streaming webinars.

Move to Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat postponed to 2020


In 2017 Google introduced Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, the enterprise-focused successors to "classic" Hangouts video calling and chat. Currently those are only available to G Suite users, but classic Hangouts are still available.

At the beginning of 2019, Google announced that G Suite customers would be fully transitioned to Meet and Chat in October, and consumer users would be migrated to Meet and Chat sometime after that.



This year Hangouts Chat got an improved design on desktop and mobile. Organizations that are part of the  have early access to new features like Chat integration with Gmail, and the ability to chat with external users.

Will I be posting "yes, still Hangouts" a year from now? I'm not taking any bets.

2019 Updates: Hangouts Meet

If you belong to an organization that uses Hangouts Meet, check out the Hangouts Meet Starter Kit.
2019 Updates in Hangouts Chat

Consumer Messaging: Google Duo and Messages


While Hangouts Meet and Chat are Google's business messaging platforms, Google Duo and Messages are for consumers. Both Duo and Messages are mobile apps first, and while a web interface is available, you have to set them up with a verified mobile phone number.

Duo

Google Duo launched in 2016 as a pretty simple 1:1 video calling app. Now you can make video calls with up to 8 participants and send personalized video messages. On Pixel 4 phones Duo uses smart auto-framing to keep chatters in-frame and you can use Duo to make a call from any Google Home or Nest speaker.

Duo also has filters, from a portrait filter to make you look good on camera, as well as fun AR effects for Valentines Day, Halloween, and Christmas.

For text conversations, Google had two apps: Allo and Messages. Allo was shut down in March. A number of Allo features, such as smart replies and GIFs were incorporated into Messages, which is Google's current focus.

Messages

Messages is Google's default Android SMS app that also supports RCS Chat, the next-generation  version of SMS. RCS is now available on all Android phones in the US, UK, France and Mexico, plus on selected carriers in 24 countries.

RCS features include an indicator when someone is typing, read receipts, high quality media sharing, and group chats. Plus it lets you send messages over mobile data or wifi.

The most notable limitation is that it doesn't communicate directly with iMessage on the iPhone. Android-iOS communication is limited to old-fashioned SMS and MMS. 

Messages is not linked to your Google Account. That may be good for privacy, but it means that you can only use Messages for the Web if your desktop computer is linked to your phone. 

One reason some Google Voice and Google Fi users still use classic Hangouts for SMS is that is available on any device. The only downside is having to give up the fancy RCS chat. 
2019 Updates: Google Duo 

2019 Updates: Messages

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