in August 2020, 9to5Google reported that Google plans to replace Duo with Meet. That development was finally made official today — and the app, which the vast majority of Android users have installed on their devices, will be rebranded as Google Meet later this year.
Tower of Babel (video).
In the early to mid-2010s, if you asked a user of free Google services how to video call someone, they would reply with Hangouts. In 2016, that answer changed to Google Duo, a very focused and lightweight app that people definitely liked.
The answer to that question began shifting again two years ago when Google Meet, which dates back to 2017, continually updated and added new features that leverage the company’s AI capabilities. The biggest change, however, was how tightly Meet integrated with Gmail.
Next to search (and YouTube), Gmail is probably Google’s most important consumer-facing offering. The email app has been available to all users since 2020, not just corporate customers. Because of its notoriety, Meet became a stronger competitor for the service that a regular Google account holder would use.
Today the company officially answers this question itself: Google Meet is its “one connected solution”. And this move could work to make this unified meeting more than the sum of its parts.
What happens: Meeting won
Google is first updating the Duo app on Android and iOS with “all Google Meet features”. This includes the ability:
- Customize virtual backgrounds in calls and meetings
- Schedule meetings so everyone can join at a time that suits them
- Use in-meeting chat for deeper interaction
- Share content live to enable interaction with everyone on the call
- Get real-time captions to better support accessibility and increase participation
- Increase the number of video calls from the current 32 to 100 participants
- Integration with other tools including Gmail, Google Calendar, Assistant, Messages and more
Google is quick to point out that “existing Duo video calling capabilities will stay here.” You can still “make video calls with friends and family by phone number or email address.” The latter ability to make 1:1 calls without first having to delete a link is already possible in Google Chat today, but video calling with someone’s number is very much a duo feature given the service’s integration in various phone dialer apps like on the pixel remains important. In the meantime, you can ask Google Assistant to call using existing devices.
The other important thing Google notes is that you don’t need to download a new app because “all conversation history, contacts, and messages are still saved.” Google is keen to convert its existing user base, especially since Duo has seen over 5 billion downloads (on Android), compared to over 100 million for the standalone Google Meet client, which will disappear after this migration. (Business and education admins will follow further instructions.) As before, Meet will remain as a tab in Gmail for mobile and web.
The addition of all these features comes with an “updated home screen” which is basically Duo’s existing history view, which is a popular way people start calls. However, you may see a new scheduled “Meetings” section appearing first in this list. If you tap “New” in the lower-right corner, you now have the options “Start a new meeting” and “Schedule in Google Calendar.” Elsewhere, Duo’s web experience will see similar updates as the original branding disappears.
If you’re not a Workspace customer, Meet Today has limits on the length of group video calls. Most of the time, users of the new Duo/Meet will not encounter them if they primarily use the mobile app. However, free users have a 60-minute cap on group calls on the internet.
This first phase – so to speak – will take place “in the coming weeks” and will be closely monitored by Google so that users are not left behind or see a drop in quality. Throughout this period, you’ll still be able to make calls using your favorite app, no matter what the other person is using.
Why is this happening: Cover every call
Once that’s complete, the company will rebrand the Google Duo app to Google Meet “later this year.” This will result in a “single video communications service for Google, available to all free of charge”.
Google’s push to have a service (for video) sees it returning to its desire for a consolidated Hangouts-era app. At first glance, this merger might seem daunting for sacrificing an app as popular as Duo – an indication of that is certainly the “how dare you” voiced in the 9 to 5 Relaxed.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic that this merger will go smoothly. The silver lining comes from how complex it really is to talk to people over video/audio and how this difficulty will only increase in the future.
With this built-in Meet, you can use Google to reach anyone if you have their phone number or email address, send them a Meet URL, or schedule something on their calendar.
Duo users expect to be able to call anyone by opening the app and selecting a contact or tapping the Duo button available in the Google Phone or Messages app. None of that changes when Meet takes over.
At the same time, Duo users get the ability to easily schedule calls, which interestingly is something Google told us consumers are increasingly keen to do when they come back into the world. (On the other hand, the company found that Meet’s enterprise customers want more instant, one-click calling options.)
I’ll be the first to admit that three or four ways to start a call isn’t the ideal turn of events. This new Google Meet is the opposite of what iPhones offer with FaceTime, but that platonic ideal of having a true way to reach someone is becoming less and less realistic as time goes on.
Each method of starting a Meet call serves a unique circumstance. Having a person’s contact information right at hand is like Android offering a direct competitor to FaceTime. Even then, knowing someone’s phone number implies a level of familiarity that differs from just having their email address. The former allows you to make a video call at any time, while the latter may be preceded by a confirmation text. In the meantime, starting a link-based call is something we now expect to be a group exchange that’s best scheduled with a dedicated tool rather than a text string.
Google’s solution with Meet is to give you every opportunity to reach someone. There’s certainly a complexity to having so many options that no doubt comes with a learning curve. (Ideally, Google would use its AI intelligence to recognize context and automatically suggest the best path.)
Until then, Google’s approach is like throwing everything against the wall. It may take some time for old Duo users to realize what the new app can do, but Google is betting people will appreciate all the possibilities.
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