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2020 Review: Communicate with Meet, Duo, Chat and Messages


2020 was the year of the video meeting. As millions of people stayed home, and school, work, socializing and entertainment moved online, there was an urgent need for improved video calling platforms.

Zoom became a household name. And there was a bit of an arms race between Google Meet and Duo, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger and other platforms as they quickly added new video call features.

Google Hangouts is entering the final months before it’s retired. Google Meet (formerly Hangouts Meet) has replaced Hangouts video calling, and text conversations will be migrated to Google Chat (formerly Hangouts Chat) in the first half of 2021.

Phone calls and text messaging will not be migrated from Hangouts to Chat. Users in the United States can sign up for a free Google Voice account and use the Google Voice app, or pay for Google Fi mobile service with integration with Android Messages for a similar experience.

And to make sure there is a “coherent vision”, Google brought development of its communication products - Meet, Chat, Duo and Messages - together as part of a single team led by Javier Soltero, the VP and GM of Google Workspace.

And all of this is part of a larger transition to a “better home for work”, that uses Gmail as a central hub where you can also access your Meet video calls, Chat conversations and rooms, and access your Docs, Calendar and other Google services. 

By the end of 2021 Google’s tangle of communication services should be a bit simplified:
  • Meet and Chat as part of an integrated Google Workspace for work, school and users needing those tools
  • Duo for casual video communication
  • Messages for text messaging on Android devices and the web, with Duo integration
  • Google Voice VoIP service and Google Fi mobile service

Advances in video conferencing: Google Meet and Google Duo

Google has two video calling platforms, Google Meet and Google Duo.

Meet is primarily designed for business users and schools, with practical features like polls and attendance recording. It works best on desktop computers.

Duo is aimed at consumer users, with fun AR filters and a family mode, and is mobile first.

Both platforms received a number of improvements in 2020.

Updates to Google Meet

Meet video calling was completely transformed in 2020, as Google quickly implemented new features in response to increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It started the year as a G Suite-only platform, with a simple 4-person grid layout, a few advanced features (recording, in-domain live streams, live captions) and finished as a full-featured conferencing platform.

In response to the pandemic, those premium features were made temporarily available to all G Suite customers. By May Meet’s daily usage had increased 30-fold, with more than 100 million daily meeting participants.

As Meet took on greater importance, “Hangouts Meet” was renamed “Google Meet”, was made available for free to individual users, integrated with Gmail and replaced Hangouts video calling.  

Meet is part of Google’s “integrated workspace” centered in Gmail. Not only is Meet available in Gmail on mobile and desktop, the Meet mobile app was also redesigned so that it has the same look and feel as Meet in the Gmail app.  The old

You can participate in a Meet meeting on your mobile device or desktop, plus smart displays like the Nest Hub Max, your TV with a Chromecast, and even Google Glass. Google also offers dedicated Google Meet hardware for meeting rooms and offices.

Notable Meet features launched this year include:
Not all of these features are available to all users. Some are limited to Google Workspace Business or Education accounts. And there are additional moderator and security features available to teachers using G Suite for Education accounts.

Updates to Google Duo


Duo is Google’s mobile-first personal video calling platform. It’s bit more fun than Meet’s serious meeting focus. And calls are end-to-end encrypted for secure communication.

Like Meet, Duo saw a big increase in use as people stayed home, including an 800 percent increase in video messages in “regions particularly impacted by social distancing.”

Duo calling is available on mobile and desktop, plus smart displays like the Next Hub Max and Android TV.

New Duo features in 2020:

Hangouts and Chat


Google Hangouts, originally launched from Google+, will be replaced by Meet and Chat. While that was originally scheduled for mid-2020, Hangouts has gotten a bit of a reprieve through the first part of 2021.

This year Google made clear that Meet and Chat are a fresh direction. They dropped the “Hangouts” part of their name in April, and both Meet and Chat are part of the deeply integrated suite of Google Workspace services. They even have new icons that drop the greenish Hangouts-like speech balloon to more closely match the look of Gmail, Calendar, and Drive. 

In November Meet largely replaced Hangouts video calling, except for calls launched from 1:1 Hangouts conversations.

And while most personal Google accounts don’t have access to Google Chat yet, migration of Hangouts conversations to Chat has been quietly happening in the background.

Google Chat offers both “chat” and “rooms”. Chats are similar to classic Hangouts, with 1:1 and group conversations. Rooms are designed for team collaboration.

New Google Chat features include:
I expect there will be a number of updates in the next few months as personal accounts are migrated from Hangouts to Chat.

Related classic Hangouts articles and tutorials
Related Google Chat articles and tutorials

Phone, Text messages and RCS chat


Google has also been sorting out its complicated phone and text messaging services.

Google Voice (voice over internet phone service) and Google Fi (Google’s mobile service) were separated. Originally using the same back-end, this change means that users can have a Voice account and Fi account on the same Google account.

One of the long-time features for Fi and Voice was Hangouts integration. That allowed receiving and placing phone calls and text messages from Hangouts on any device signed in to your Google account.

Hangouts is losing phone calls and text messaging in late January. Users in the US can create a Google Voice account to continue calling and texting using the Voice app and site. Google Fi customers can enable syncing with Messages for Web for a similar experience.

Meanwhile all Android users can use Google Messages for SMS, MMS and RCS on mobile and desktop. Messages added a several new features in 2020, including comment reactions, photo editing, hands-free audio messaging and Google Duo integration. And it will soon offer end-to-end encryption.

Previous Yearly Updates

(Yes, I've been saying "Hangouts isn't dead yet" for 5 years)

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