Updated by Jenna Phipps
Google Hangouts is a cloud-based messaging and video chat application developed by Google. It started as a feature of Google+ but became a standalone product in 2013 when features such as Google+ Messenger and Google Talk were integrated into the application. Hangouts is now part of the G Suite line of products and is available to anyone for free with an @gmail.com or @googlemail.com (which now redirects to Gmail) email address.
In 2021, Hangouts will be removed entirely from the Google Workspace (or G Suite) line of products. Since 2017, Google been preparing to replace Hangouts with Google Chat (a messaging app within the suite) and Google Meet (a video conferencing application). After a recent history of many communication applications within the Google family and some confusion from consumers, Google is working to streamline its work apps.
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History and development of Google Hangouts and Google’s other messaging apps
In the mid-2000s, Google had several separate messaging platforms. Google Talk was an enterprise-focused instant messaging application that worked within Gmail. It also integrated with the popular Google+. Google Talk had competition from other companies’ communication apps, including Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and WhatsApp.
In 2012, Google announced plans to merge Talk with Google+ Messenger and Hangouts, two of its other communications tools. Google+Messenger included chat, voice, and video conferencing. Joined together, the three services became Google+ Hangouts. Hangouts launched in May 2013.
In 2016, Google released an SMS messenger app called Allo. It had artificial intelligence capabilities. By 2019, Google no longer supported Allo.
In 2016, Google Hangouts’ Chrome extension received an update for improved group chat controls. Google recommends using the Chrome extension for users who previously used the Hangouts Chrome app.
In 2019, Google initially announced Hangouts’ eventual replacement by Google Chat and Google Meet. As of April 2021, Hangouts still had not been fully removed, though Google had set instructions for businesses to make a smooth transition to Meet and Chat within their workspaces and IT teams.
When COVID-19 brought many businesses home and relegated social gatherings to video conferences, Google made Meet available for free. People could download it from the Google Play store, or existing Gmail users could host meetings of up to 100 participants. Google also plans to make Chat available for free sometime in 2021.
Google Hangouts features
The Google Hangouts application currently allows:
- Instant messaging with emoji, images, video, and GIF-sharing capabilities
- Group chats of up to 250 people
- Voice calls
- HD video calls
- HD group video calls (up to 25 people)
- Video muting abilities
- Compatibility with many platforms (iOS, Android)
- Screen sharing
- Integrations with other Google applications
- Support on web browsers and a Chrome extension
Google Hangouts vs. Google Chat vs. Google Meet
Google currently offers a variety of communication applications, and understanding their differences can be challenging. We explain some main characteristics that set Google Hangouts apart from Google Chat and Google Meet.
Similar to Zoom, Google Meet is a video communication tool. It’s best suited for large video calls as it can support up to 250 participants and 100,000 live stream viewers. Users can book a meeting ahead of time with Google Chat or Google Calendar. Features include disabling the camera during a video call, muting the microphone, and screen sharing. Meet is a useful video conference tool for companies that have frequent presentations and use other Google applications heavily. Google Meet is included in all Google Workspace accounts.
Similar to Slack, Google Chat is a communication software built for teams that provides direct messages and team chat rooms. It is focused on ongoing conversations within teams. One-on-one chats are also available. Google Chat is deeply integrated with other products within Google Workspace, meaning users can share a file from Google Docs or manage appointments with Google Calendar.
Chat users can also use Chat as a standalone app as well as within Gmail. Chat allows users to create virtual rooms, which are spaces for project discussion and file sharing. Chat also supports integrations with some major third-party applications like Salesforce and allows users to enable bots for task automation.
In comparison, Google Hangouts can be thought of as a mix of both Google Meet and Google Chat. However, it’s best suited for casual video chats with friends and family. 25 people can be added to a video call, and the video view shifts to the person who is talking, so it’s impossible to see everyone at once with a gallery view.
In 2020, Google announced plans to transition Hangout users to Google Chat by 2021. It has given businesses instructions for migrating to Google Chat when Hangouts is officially no longer supported; Google hasn’t yet clarified the date Hangouts will be completely trashed. Google suggests letting team members who use Hangouts know about the transition weeks in advance and recommends preparing IT teams for the transition.
Using Meet and Chat in place of Hangouts provides two separate applications for two different functions: group messaging and discussions and video conferencing. Though Meet and Chat perform similar tasks too (such as sharing other Google content), they’re different enough to have separate applications. Google has cycled through multiple communication apps in the past ten years alone, and placing Meet and Chat within the Workspace has the potential to help streamline Google’s business communication services.
Click here to download Google Hangouts from the App Store, and click here to download it from the Google Play store.
This article was updated May 2021 by Jenna Phipps.