In August 2020, 9to5Google reported that Google plans to replace Duo with Meet. This development was finally made official today – and will see the app that the vast majority of Android users have installed on their devices being rebranded as Google Meet later this year.
Tower of (video) Babel
If you asked a user of free Google services in the early to mid-2010s how to video call someone, they would say Hangouts. In 2016, that response changed to Google Duo, a highly targeted and lightweight app that people, across all accounts, loved.
The answer to this question started to change again two years ago, as Work from Home (WFH) saw Google continually upgrading Meet, which dates back to 2017, and adding new features that take advantage of the prowess of Meet. business in AI. The biggest change, however, has been the degree of integration Meet has with Gmail.
Next to search (and YouTube), Gmail is probably Google’s most important consumer offering. The messaging app started to surface Meet for all users in 2020, not just for businesses. Given its prominence, Meet has become a more serious competitor to the service a regular Google account holder would think of using.
Today, the company officially answers this question itself: Google Meet is its “one-stop connected solution”. And that move just might work to make this unified encounter more than the sum of its parts.
What’s going on ? Encounter won
Google is first updating the Duo app on Android and iOS with “all the functionality of Google Meet”. This includes the ability to:
- Customize virtual backgrounds in calls and meetings
- Schedule meetings so that everyone can participate at a time that suits them
- Use in-meeting chat for deeper engagement
- Live content sharing to enable interaction with all call participants
- Get real-time closed captions to better support accessibility and boost participation
- Increase video call size from a current limit of 32 to 100 participants
- Integrate with other tools including Gmail, Google Calendar, Assistant, Messages, and more.
Google is quick to point out that “Duo’s existing video calling features are here to stay.” You’ll still be able to “video call friends and family by phone number or email address.” This latter ability to make 1:1 calls without having to drop a link first is already possible today in Google Chat, but video calling someone’s number is really a Duo feature that remains important considering the service’s integration with various phone dialer apps, like on the Pixel. During this time, you will be able to ask Google Assistant to call using existing devices.
The other important thing Google notes is that you won’t have to download a new app because “all chat history, contacts, and messages will continue to be saved.” Google is keen to convert the existing user base, especially since Duo has had over 5 billion downloads (on Android) compared to over 100 million for the standalone Google Meet client, which disappears after this migration. (Business and education administrators will receive additional instructions.) Meet will remain as a tab in Gmail mobile and web, as it does today.
Adding all of these features comes with an “enhanced home screen” which is basically Duo’s existing history view, which is a popular way to start calls. However, you may see a new “Scheduled Meetings” section appear first in this list. Meanwhile, when you tap the “New” FAB call (floating action button) in the lower right corner, you now have Meet’s options to “Start a new meeting” and “Schedule in Google Calendar.” Elsewhere, Duo’s web experience will see similar updates as the original branding goes away.
Meet Today has restrictions on the duration of group video calls if you are not a Workspace customer. Users of the new Duo/Meet generally won’t encounter them if they primarily use the mobile app. However, free users will have a 60-minute cap on group web calls.
This first phase – of sorts – will take place “in the coming weeks” and will be closely monitored by Google so that users are not left behind or see quality degrade. Throughout this period, the ability to make calls with your favorite application, regardless of the other person’s use, will remain.
Why does this happen? Cover every call
Once that’s complete, the company will rebrand the Google Duo app to Google Meet “later this year.” This will result in a “one-stop video communication service on Google, available free to everyone.”
Google’s desire to have a service (for video) takes it back to the Hangouts-era desire for a consolidated app. At first, this merger might seem off-putting for sacrificing such a beloved app as Duo – an indication of that is certainly “how dare you” to be uttered in the 9 to 5 Soft.
However, there is reason to be optimistic that this merger will go well. The silver lining comes from the complexity of talking to people over video/audio, and how that difficulty will only increase in the future.
With this built-in dating, you can use Google to reach anyone if you have their phone number, email address, can send them a dating URL, or schedule something on their calendar.
Duo users expect to be able to call anyone by opening the app and selecting a contact, or tapping the Duo button available in the Google Phone or Messages app. None of that changes when Meet takes over.
At the same time, Duo users will have the ability to easily schedule calls, which is interesting, something Google told us consumers are increasingly looking to do when they return to the world. (On the other hand, the company found that enterprise customers of Meet wanted more one-click instant calling options.)
I’ll be the first to admit that having three or four ways to start a call isn’t the most ideal turn of events. This new Google Meet is the antithesis of what iPhones offer with FaceTime, but that platonic ideal of having a real way to reach someone becomes less and less realistic over time.
Each method of initiating a Meet call corresponds to a unique situation. Having a person’s contact information directly is most like Android offering a direct competitor to FaceTime. Even then, knowing someone’s phone number involves a different level of familiarity than just knowing their email address. The former allows you to make a video call at any time, while the latter can be preceded by a confirmation text. Meanwhile, starting a link-based call is something we now expect to be a group exchange, and it might be better to plan with a dedicated tool instead of a text string.
Google’s solution with Meet is to give you every possible way to reach someone. There is definitely a complexity to having so many options which undoubtedly comes with a learning curve. (Ideally, Google would leverage its artificial intelligence to recognize context and automatically suggest the best way.)
Until then, Google’s approach is to throw everything at the wall. It might take old Duo users a while to realize all the new app can do, but Google is betting people will appreciate all the choices.
FTC: We use revenue-generating automatic affiliate links. After.
Check out 9to5Google on YouTube for more info: