Google announced today that it will merge Duo and Meet, two of its video-calling apps, into a single platform. Soon, Google Meet will be the sole calling app consumers will need for almost everything in their lives, and Google hopes it will be that app.
Google hopes that by combining the two, it will be able to address some of the issues that plague modern communication systems. “What’s been really important is understanding how people make the choice as to what tool they’re going to use, for what purpose, in what circumstance,” says Javier Soltero, Google Workspace’s director. There are a million different chat applications in our digital lives, each with its own set of rules, standards, and contact list, some for work and some for personal use.
Google is hoping to connect everything with Gmail addresses and phone numbers. “It’s really important and powerful to be able to reach you that way,” Soltero says, “and allow you then to decide whether you want to be reached or not, as opposed to having to manage all of these different identities and deal with the consequences.”
For the majority of his time at Google, Soltero has preached the concept of “reachability,” which has prompted Google to integrate Meet and Chat into so many of its other services. It’s a noble goal, but it comes with a cost: adding everything to everything has crowded and complicated some of Google’s services. A meeting can be started from any location! But… are you sure you want to? It’s a good idea to streamline your communication options, but slamming everything together at random won’t work.
Meet has developed into a robust platform for meetings and group conversations of all kinds in recent years, whereas Duo has remained primarily a messaging software. Google claims it will bring all of Duo’s capabilities to Meet in the future, and it appears to believe it can provide the best of both worlds.
But it’s not exactly accurate to say Duo is being murdered. The software, which was first released by Google in 2016 as a simple way to make one-to-one video calls, does a few things that Meet doesn’t. For one thing, rather of sending links or clicking the large Meet button on your Google Calendar invite, you may call someone directly — including with their phone number. In that regard, Duo has always been closer to FaceTime than Zoom. (Google also launched an iMessage competitor, Allo, at the same time as Duo. Allo didn’t turn out so great.)
Google is favouring Duo’s mobile app as the default as the two services merge. The Duo app will be updated soon, bringing a slew of Meet capabilities to the platform; the Duo app will be rebranded Google Meet later this year. The current Meet app will be renamed “Meet Original” and will be phased out over time.
This seems a little confusing, but Google claims it’s the best option. “The Duo mobile app had a lot of sophistication, especially under the hood,” says Dave Citron, director of product for Google’s video products. “Especially in emerging markets, where network connectivity was sparse or highly variable.” On the web, things are different; Meet is a considerably more developed online platform, and it serves as the foundation for the new integrated system. However, in both circumstances, Citron explained, “the idea is 100% of the functionality,” Citron said, “combined forces, and no users left behind.”
This is another another attempt by Google to bring together some of its previously fragmented pieces, resulting in a more coherent and integrated Google suite of services. According to Soltero, as Meet grew in popularity during the pandemic, it became clear that it would be the best place for Google to focus its voice and video efforts in the future. And he hopes that the Meet brand will grow to mean more than “meeting” over time.
It will be difficult for Google to do this properly. It must get a lot of small things right if it wants to establish a cross-platform, cross-purpose platform for audio and video chats. When you get a call, should every device and browser tab you’re signed into ring? (Google claims no, although it’s getting better at figuring out which device you’re using and sending calls and notifications to that device.) Should you be able to receive calls on both your personal and professional devices? (There’s no definitive answer yet, but Soltero says he’s leading the push to find out.)
Meet is now integrated into so many Google services that it may quickly become a viable WhatsApp and FaceTime competitor, but only if it can integrate without being inconvenient or difficult.