Google announced today that it’s combining two of its video-calling apps, Duo and Meet, into a single platform. Pretty soon, there will be only Google Meet, and Google’s hoping it can be the one calling app users need for just about everything in their lives.
By bringing them both together, Google’s hoping it can solve some of what ails modern communication tools. “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, the head of Google Workspace. Our digital lives are filled with a million different chat apps, each with its own rules and norms and contact list, some for work purposes and some for personal ones. Google’s hoping it can use Gmail addresses and phone numbers to bring all that together. “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.”
Soltero has been preaching this idea of “reachability” for most of his tenure at Google, and it has led Google to integrate Meet and Chat into so many of its other services. It’s a good goal, but it comes at a cost: adding everything to everything has made some of Google’s services cluttered and complicated. You can start a meeting from anywhere! But... do you actually want to? Streamlining your communication choices is a good idea, but haphazardly cramming everything together doesn’t work.
Over the last couple of years in particular, Meet has become a powerful platform for meetings and group chats of all kinds, while Duo has stayed more of a messaging app. Google promises it’s bringing all of Duo’s features to Meet going forward and seems convinced it can offer the best of both worlds.
It’s not quite right to say that Duo’s being killed, though. The app, which Google originally launched in 2016 as an easy way to make one-to-one video calls, does a number of useful things that Meet doesn’t. For one thing, you can call someone directly — including with their phone number — rather than relying on sending links or hitting that giant Meet button in your Google Calendar invite. Duo has always been more like FaceTime than Zoom in that sense. (Google also launched an iMessage competitor, Allo, at the same time as Duo. Allo didn’t turn out so great.)
As the two services become one, Google is leaning on Duo’s mobile app as the default. Pretty soon, the Duo app will get an update that brings an onslaught of Meet features into the platform; later this year, the Duo app will be renamed Google Meet. The current Meet app will be called “Meet Original,” and eventually deprecated.
This sounds... confusing, but Google claims it’s the best way forward. “The Duo mobile app had a lot of sophistication, especially under the hood,” says Dave Citron, the director of product for Google’s video products. “Especially in emerging markets, where network connectivity was sparse or highly variable.” On the web, it’s different; Meet is the much more developed web platform, so that forms the base of the new combined system. But in both cases, “the idea is 100% of the functionality,” Citron said, “combined forces, and no users left behind.”
This is yet another effort from Google to unify some of its previously disparate parts, making the Google suite of services make more coherent and cohesive sense. Soltero said that as Meet has grown during the pandemic, it became the obvious place for Google to concentrate its voice and video efforts going forward. And he’s hopeful that over time, the Meet brand can come to mean more than just “meeting.”
For this to work, Google has to solve a lot of little things about messaging and calls
Getting this right will be tricky for Google. If it wants to build a cross-platform, cross-purpose platform for audio and video calls, it has to get a lot of little things right. Should every single device and browser tab you’re signed into ring every time you get a call? (Google says no, and that it’s getting better at recognizing which device you’re actually using and sending calls and notifications to that one.) Should you be able to get calls on your personal and work device at the same time? (No good answer yet, but Soltero said he’s leading the charge to figure it out.)
Meet is already baked into so many Google services that it could become a meaningful WhatsApp and FaceTime competitor practically overnight, but only if it can integrate without being annoying or complicated.