Google announced today that it is merging two of its video calling apps, Duo and Meet, onto a single platform. Pretty soon there will be only Google Meet, and Google hopes it can be the calling app users need for pretty much everything in their lives.
By bringing the two together, Google hopes to solve some of the problems of modern communication tools. “What was really important was understanding how people make their choices about which tool to use, for what purpose and under what circumstances,” says Javier Soltero, head of Google Workspace. Our digital lives are filled with a million different chat apps, each with their own set of rules and norms and contact lists, some for work purposes and others for private purposes. Google hopes it can use Gmail addresses and phone numbers to bring it all together. “It’s really important and powerful to be able to reach you that way,” says Soltero, “and then let you decide whether or not you want to be reached, rather than having to manage all these different identities and deal with the consequences.” .”
Soltero preached this idea of ”reachability” for most of his tenure at Google, leading Google to integrate Meet and Chat with so many of its other services. It’s a good goal, but it comes at a price: adding everything to everything has made some of Google’s services cluttered and complicated. You can start a meeting from anywhere! But… do you really want that? It’s a good idea to streamline your communications, but cramming everything together haphazardly won’t work.
Especially in the last few years, Meet has evolved into a powerful platform for meetings and group chats of all kinds, while Duo has remained more of a messaging app. Google promises to bring all of Duo’s features into Meet in the future and seems confident in offering the best of both worlds.
However, it is not entirely correct to say that Duo is killed. The app, which Google originally launched in 2016 as an easy way to make one-on-one video calls, offers a number of useful features that Meet doesn’t offer. For one, you can call someone directly — even 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 FaceTime than Zoom in that sense. (Google also launched an iMessage competitor, Allo, at the same time as Duo. Allo hasn’t turned out that great.)
As the two services become one, Google relies on Duo’s mobile app by default. Pretty soon, the Duo app will receive an update that will bring an onslaught of Meet features to the platform. Later this year, the Duo app will be rebranded to Google Meet. The current Meet app is called “Meet Original” and will eventually be discontinued.
That sounds… confusing, but Google claims it’s the best way forward. “The Duo mobile app was very sophisticated, especially under the hood,” said Dave Citron, product director for video products at Google. “Especially in emerging markets where network connectivity has been sparse or highly variable.” It’s different on the internet; Meet is the significantly more advanced web platform, which forms the basis of the new combined system. But in both cases, “the idea is 100% functionality,” Citron said, “joined forces and no users left behind.”
This is another attempt by Google to unify some of its previously disparate parts, making Google’s suite of services more coherent and cohesive. Soltero said that as Meet has grown during the pandemic, it has become the obvious place for Google to focus its voice and video efforts going forward. And he hopes that over time, the Meet brand can mean more than just “meeting.”
Getting this right will be difficult for Google. If it wants to build a multi-platform, multi-purpose audio and video calling platform, it has to get a lot of little things right. Do you want every single device and browser tab you’re signed into to 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 receive calls on your personal and work devices at the same time? (Not a good answer yet, but Soltero said he’s leading the prosecution to find out.)
Meet is already baked into so many Google services that it could become a viable WhatsApp and FaceTime competitor practically overnight, but only if it integrates without being annoying or complicated.