OK, now that we’re all on the same page (right? Everyone?) The first news in the blog post is that Google Chat will be available to consumer accounts “starting in the first half of 2021”. The service started as a business-centric G Suite app (G Suite is now called “Google Workspace”), so accessing Google Chat originally required G Suite payment. But in 2021 it will be free for everyone. Google says it wants a “smooth transition” from Google Hangouts to Chat and “will automatically migrate your Hangouts conversations, along with your contacts and saved history.”
The slow death of Hangouts
With the advent of Google Chat, Google Hangouts will die. Google initially announced this in 201
The first is the loss of Google Fi SMS, which will begin “in the next few weeks”. Google Fi can use your phone’s SMS app to send messages, but because it’s a true cell phone service, it could also receive SMS messages via Hangouts. Hangouts has Android apps, a Chrome extension, and two web hotspots – Gmail and hangouts.google.com, so it was a super easy way to use Google Fi. For Google users, it was also the home of their non-SMS messages, so you have it all in one convenient app. While Google Chat is taking over for Hangouts, it’s not acquiring this bit of functionality. If you want Google Fi messages, you will soon need to use Google Messages, the Android SMS app.
Google Messages only has an Android app and a web app. The Web Messages app currently works by forwarding data from your phone, so your phone must be turned on for this to work and you must log in by scanning a QR code from your phone. Google notes that Fi users will be able to use web messages “even when their phone is turned off,” so it looks like normal login functionality will finally arrive at the service.
Google Voice is also losing the Hangouts integration this month. Voice has its own phone apps and a web app, and you’ll need to use them soon.
The death of phone calls in Google Hangouts is apparently due to the fact that “new telecommunications regulations are introduced in the EU and the US starting in 2021”. Google doesn’t explain what these new regulations are, but the timing is in line with an FCC mandate for VoIP services to include location with emergency calls by January 2021.
Google Chat isn’t terrible
All of this is very reminiscent of Google’s other big shutdown going on right now: the move from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. While YouTube Music is nowhere near ready and Google Music users can expect to miss out on a lot of features, Google Chat is actually quite good as a replacement for Hangouts. For whatever reason, I already have access to it on my consumer Google account and have been free to message my existing Hangouts contacts. There are no missing features on shutdown and the user interface is modern and simple. It is not ready yet mainly due to transition issues. I cannot participate in group chats and I cannot add new contacts, only a certain number of my contacts have been marked as compatible with the chat. Basic messaging looks good, however, and if both people are on Chat, you get great features like editing messages. It’s by no means a competitive service compared to messaging ecosystems that don’t restart every couple of years, but if you just want to send messages and images back and forth across all your devices, that’s fine.
As with Google Music, however, Google is transitioning backwards again by shutting down an old service faster than building the new one. These transitions would be much smoother if Google first made the new app fully functional and then shut down the old app later after people have left. Slowly killing its existing apps without having a good replacement ready doesn’t just feel bad; opens the door for users to fully download Google services.
While Hangouts will lose more features starting this month, we don’t have a definitive closure date for the service yet.