Google is releasing Hangouts Chat this week, a service that allows users to message each other privately or in groups, and work collaboratively on projects. The software was first unveiled in March last year, but to date, it has only been available to companies enrolled in Google’s Early Adopter Program. Now, it’s open to all users signed up to G Suite, Google’s software for businesses that includes Gmail, Google Docs, and so on.
Hangouts Chat represents a big overhaul of Google’s messaging strategy that signals its entry into the business communication arena. For businesses already paying for G Suite tools, Hangouts Chat could be an attractive alternative to Slack as it will be included for every G Suite subscriber at no extra cost. It’s also tightly integrated with other G Suite apps.
With updates announced today to Hangouts Chat, users will be able to upload items from Drive, work together on Docs, Sheets, or Slides, and hold group video chats in Hangouts Meet. Those with admin credentials can also archive, export, and save Chat data using the integrated Vault application.
Google is also promising that Hangouts Chat will use the company’s AI to make workflows more efficient. Hangouts Chat will also feature 25 bots that aim to help with organization, productivity, and even meditation and mindfulness. One bot called @Drive alerts you when you’re added to a file, when comments are made, or when people request access to your documents. The @Meet bot integrates with Google Calendar to plan meetings. Google says users can also build bot integrations on top of Chat as well if they wish.
Hangouts Chat is compatible with the usual Hangouts app and will work with users’ existing contacts. It supports 28 languages, and is available via a web browser client as well as standalone apps on iOS and Android.
Alongside the launch of Hangouts Chat, Google is also making some minor updates to other G Suite products. Its “Quick Access” file picker will now be available directly in Google Docs and Google Calendar will try to use machine learning to pick the best meeting room for you automatically. The Calendar feature will be available “in the coming months.”
Update at 4:52PM ET, 2/28: Updates with info on Calendar room booking and Quick Access availability.