Google Hangouts won't disappear for consumers despite enterprise focus

Despite the existence of Allo and Duo, Google won't cut consumers off

While Google Hangouts is making a shift to serve enterprise users, it won’t be vanishing for consumers.

Last week, the company announced that it would be splitting the chat and videoconferencing service into Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat, which raised questions about what would happen for those people who still use it in their personal lives.

Consumers will still be able to access Hangouts using their personal Google accounts. Hangouts will still appear in the Gmail sidebar on the desktop, even after it splits into Chat and Meet, according to Scott Johnston, director of product management for Hangouts.

Right now, the chat service is in a closed beta program for Google’s enterprise customers, but once it becomes generally available, consumers and enterprise users will be prompted to upgrade.

When Google releases it to general availability, the company will upgrade Hangouts, both in G Suite and in the current Hangouts apps, to Meet and Chat, he said during a press briefing at the company’s Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco last week.

In other words, the company isn’t going to cut consumers off from a product that they’re still using to communicate with one another. Consumers will be able to start video and audio meetings using Hangouts Meet, plus have group chat conversations using Chat.

Consumers who prefer the classic Hangouts will be able to hang onto it for awhile after the new Chat service becomes generally available. Google plans to operate Meet, Chat, and classic Hangouts all at the same time during a transition period, while allowing users to choose to upgrade at their leisure. At some point, consumers will be moved over to Chat and Meet.

That said, Google isn’t exactly encouraging people to keep using Hangouts for consumer messaging. Last year, the company introduced Allo, a new mobile-first messaging app that includes access to the Google Assistant and other features that haven’t been added to Hangouts.

By contrast, Google will focus on giving Hangouts users features that are focused on serving the needs of businesses, like team chats and integrations with work software like Asana, Box, Smartsheet, and Zendesk. Both products will have enterprise-specific features.

It’s unclear what exactly that means for Hangouts’ chances as a consumer product in the long run. Right now, there’s not an easy migration path from Hangouts to Allo, since one requires users log in with mobile phone numbers, and the other requires Google account log-ins.

Allo also isn’t available outside of Android and iOS yet, though Google is working on a desktop experience. Google also has a handful of other messaging apps, too. But at least for now, Allo and Hangouts will continue their coexistence.

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