Google goes after Slack with Hangouts overhaul

Plus, the company is doubling down on its videoconferencing play

Google’s Hangouts work chat and videoconferencing service is undergoing some major changes to better serve businesses. The company announced Thursday that it’s going after the work group chat market as well as the group videoconferencing market even harder than before by splitting Hangouts’s functions in two.

The company is diving deeper into workplace text conversations with Hangouts Chat, a service designed to provide teams a shared space to discuss work. It’s Google’s attack on Slack, HipChat, Microsoft Teams and other players in that growing market.

In addition, it’s doubling down on work videoconferencing with a new Hangouts Meet product that provides teams with online audio and video conferencing capabilities that are more robust than what Google offered before.

All of this is part of the company’s push to make its G Suite productivity suite more appealing to businesses large and small. The new offerings further refine the Hangouts service, which was originally launched as a consumer chat app, to meet the needs of teams and businesses.

Meet, which was accidentally revealed to the public last week , is an expansion of the existing videoconferencing capabilities for Hangouts. It allows more people to join a single call, and its back-end stack has been rebuilt to perform better than the classic Hangouts voice and video conferencing capabilities.

Users can join a conference from PC, Mac, iOS and Android. G Suite Enterprise Customers will also be able to get dial-in numbers for their Meet calls, so that users who aren’t close to a computer (or who only want to use a phone) can call in without an app.

That will put the company in closer competition with the likes of Microsoft’s Skype for Business offering, which is one of the key parts of Office 365.

Hangouts Chat is designed to work a lot more like a modern work chat application. Users will be able to have named team chats that bring in content from outside sources like docs from G Suite, Asana, Box and Zendesk.

Hangouts Chat also comes with a new “@meet” bot, which allows users to automatically schedule meetings with people on their team. Users can ask the bot to schedule a meeting, and it will look over everyone’s schedule, find a time that works for all participants, then book the meeting.

Meet is generally available for G Suite customers Thursday. Chat is in closed beta, which customers can apply to join here.

Consumers and customers still using Google’s classic Hangouts chat won’t see any change in their experience for now. In the future, the company will have the new services supersede its older offering, but that’s further down the road.

The news comes as part of the Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco. It was announced alongside changes to pricing for the company’s cloud services, new big data functionality and more.

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