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Understanding Google's Communication Options

Are you confused by Google's communication options?  Not sure about the difference between Hangouts, Chat, Meet, Messages, Voice and Duo? 

This week I chatted with Michael Daniels and Heather Kraafter on Tinkering with Tech about why it may not be as confusing as it may seem. 

The way I look at it, there are two ways to communicate: 

For conversations and video calls that are mobile first and only require a phone number, you use Google's "consumer" options:  Duo for video and Messages (with RCS/chat features) for text. 

For conversations and video calls that are web or desktop first, and require a Google or Google Workspace account, you use Google's "business" options: Meet for video and Chat for text.  Chat's "Rooms" will soon become "Spaces", so that Chat will just be for chatting.

You can access Meet and Chat on mobile and Duo and Messages on the web. But the most feature-rich experience is on the web for Meet and Chat and in the mobile for Duo and Messages. 

And I think it is significant that Duo and Messages do not require a Google account to use. All you need is a mobile phone. 

There is a third category, that doesn't fit in neatly with the others. That's telephony or telephone services. 

Google Voice is a cloud telephone service, integrated with Google's other Google Workspace business services. You can get a Voice phone number for free if you are in the United States (with a US address). 

Google Fi is wireless communication service that offers phone, text, and mobile data. Google does not own the cell phone towers or other infrastructure, which makes it a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). It currently uses T-Mobile, Sprint (which is now also T-Mobile) and US Cellular networks. 

Notably both Google Voice and Google Fi offered optional integration with classic Hangouts for text messaging, voicemail and phone calls.  Those features were removed in early 2021, at least in part  because of new regulations in the US and EU.

Try the services for yourself

If you want to try Google Fi, use my referral code to get a $20 credit. I have reached my referral credit maximum, but usually the referrer also gets a $20 credit. Terms and conditions. Fi is also US only.

Watch the show

A little history

Looking at the history of Google's communication offerings, it definitely can be confusing. 

I think that's in part because Google hasn't ever made a clean transition from the old to the new. Instead Google has been running multiple overlapping services for years.  

You could use the old Google Talk (AKA GChat) in at least a limited form until 2017, long after Hangouts launched from Google+ in 2013. 

The replacements for Hangouts - Meet and Chat - were launched in 2017, more than four years ago. They were limited to G Suite/Google Workspace customers until last year.

Hangouts hasn't gotten any new features in all that time, and has gradually had functionality (invite by name, location sharing, SMS) removed. 

So Google has gone from one communications service - Google Talk - to five today, with several others launched and retired in the meantime.

In that like, it's not too surprising that "Google is launching a new messaging service" has become a punchline. 

Someday someone will write an insider's history, and I suspect that the less-than-universal adoption of Google+, the technical difficulties and limitations of a "universal" communication platform, the tricky integration of smart features, and Google's recent expansion of paid business services will all have played a role in the communications story. 

But I feel like Google is now more focused.

Hangouts is finally being retired, and Meet, Chat, Duo and Messages all have had a number of new features added over the past year and a half. Maybe this is a good thing to to come out of the pandemic?

As I noted, Duo and Meet (for video) and Messages with chat features and Google Chat (for text chat) have slightly overlapping functionality, but do well being aimed at different types of users. 

Of course I'm hoping not to have to revisit this a year from now to say that Google has yet another messaging platform in development.  We shall see.