Google has been widely criticized in the tech blogs for two things in recent years: The “Google kills X” meme, and the company’s seeming obsession with messaging services. If Google isn’t killing a service that customers love like Google Reader, or Inbox, or Play Music, then it’s finding a new way to add a messaging system to Google Maps or Google Photos, or building yet another new one entirely. It’s partly a joke, but sadly all too serious, because Google actually does these things. Or, at least, it used to. Something about the recent announcement that Google Meet and Duo are merging strikes me as different, and maybe the company is starting to see the big picture and begin fixing these issues.
This isn’t quite tinfoil hat-levels of conspiracy, but it is something I’ve been debating in hushed tones with my fellows at Android Police, because this is different. Google has announced that the long-rumored merger between its two video calling platforms is happening later this year, but one isn’t simply eating the other. Although Duo is losing its branding as part of the change, Google’s not leaving it behind. The Duo mobile app is taking over for the newly unified Meet, though Meet is maintaining its presence on the web, and Google promises feature parity before the end. Folks are already poking fun about how complicated the merger between Google Meet and Duo seems to be since it’s not just one service outright eating the other, but it’s exactly as simple as I just described: Google Meet everywhere except on mobile, where it will be Meet through the Duo app (and the reason for that is clear, too).
I can’t think of another project merger/death at Google that can be summed up so gracefully.
I can’t think of another project merger/death at Google that can be summed up so gracefully. Part of that surely comes down to Google explaining things so succinctly, but the bigger part is simply that it is so succinct.
Think of the “merger” between Google Chat (not that Chat) and Hangouts. Hangouts itself was victim to an internal breakup that ultimately created Google Meet, and the text-based dregs languished as Google obsessed over the ultimately doomed Allo. Features were slowly killed (SMS support was removed, Google Voice Integration left behind, Google Fi customers were pushed to the Messages app), and finally, the Hangouts Chat project spun from its decaying corpse was selected as its replacement. By the time Google decided Chat was the future, feature parity wasn’t a concern — Hangouts was so barebones, there wasn’t anything left for a new service to add. In fact, the feature comparison between Hangouts and Google Chat heavily favors Chat. But the old Hangouts app still works in this far-flung year of 2022, as does the Hangouts site.
The death of Hangouts has been loud, confusing, and drawn-out, while the changes to Duo and Meet are pretty clear cut before things have even begun. It could be a messier process than we’re expecting, but it really doesn’t sound like it.
The death of Hangouts has been loud, confusing, and drawn-out, while the changes to Duo and Meet are pretty clear cut before things have even begun.
Then there’s the case of Gmail and the death of Inbox. Google promised that Inbox’s bundles would come to Gmail, a guarantee that remains unfulfilled nearly half a decade later. When delivering feature parity means doing actual work, Google is slow to do it, if it happens at all, as those that switched from Google Play Music to YouTube Music can tell you. The closest thing to a true “merger” in spirit I think we’ve seen for Google apps and services might be the Google Pay/Android Pay/Tez union, which started with a single branding across different payment verticals and markets, but eventually spread to a unified app (and soon, a return of Google Wallet branding). But even that merger, which I’d argue was a success, was a messier and seemingly more organic process than the Duo/Meet one.
I’m sure there are other examples where Google has brought things together more successfully and cleanly, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Even the examples above are a little unusual; often Google just ignores or outright kills one thing to make room for another. Customers wail and gnash teeth as ages go by between updates or another headstone is erected in the Google Graveyard, but the company doesn’t care. And worse, there’s no one there to care as engineers and project managers shuffle off to new roles. Google’s broken toys are simply left on the ground until someone decides to turn off the URLs and apps.
That’s Google’s reputation, and today feels different. Duo hasn’t been abandoned; it got a fresh Material You-themed update last year, and it’s still receiving a steady trickle of updates. Meet hasn’t been ignored either, picking up new little features every few weeks. Google’s definitely not ignoring one of these in favor of the other. And Google’s not just killing one to make room, either. Bits of Duo will persist as Meet moves into its app, and Meet will persist on other platforms and in branding. Google even showed some UI tweaks we can expect. It didn’t look like Meet or Duo, but a union of the two — a “merger,” if you will.
Meet’s anticipated unified UI.
Based on everything we know now, we’re not giving up anything through this change. It’s exactly what customers have been asking for, it makes using the two services simpler by not having an arbitrary and indistinct line drawn somewhere because of the number of participants in the call, and each “side” is gaining something as part of the transaction.
Now, there are other reasons that Google might have for pushing for this merger to happen the way it is. Probably the most important reason not to simply abandon Duo and move everything over to Meet (as Google did with Hangouts and Google Chat) is the apps. Duo is a core GMS package, and that means it comes preinstalled on most Android phones. That’s why it has over five billion installs on the Play Store, and that’s an advantage Google simply can’t give up by deprecating it. Even though the focus here seems to be on preserving Meet, Google’s keeping the Duo app around and abandoning its Meet equivalent.
Of course, the focus on Google Meet could have to do with monetization through Google Workspace subscriptions, but that’s neither here nor there. However, it does touch on another important reason why Google would fold Duo in with Google Meet, and that’s the fact that the company reorganized all of its messaging efforts in 2020 into a single team under the VP behind Google Workspace. Meet is a part of Google Workspace (previously G Suite), and Duo isn’t. The drive since then has been to further unify Google’s disparate efforts, both in terms of consolidating services and in terms of platform integrations. The Hangouts to Chat migration was a comparative mess — a 2020 interview with The Verge acknowledged as much — and that all started at least partly before these organizational changes.
This merger is the first fruit we’ve seen from Google’s new unified messaging team, and, by virtue of its relative simplicity, it feels like a more responsibly made decision. There’s no years-long mess and confusion about when things are changing and how, and I doubt we’ll be worrying about which apps to use for what in a few years. Google’s made it clear that Duo’s integrations will work as they did before under Meet, so video calling through your dialer app should be about the same. Yes, the old Meet app will be deprecated eventually, but that’s the only change we really have to accommodate — Meet was already forced into the Gmail app and that’s probably how most people were used to using it already. Details for other platforms aren’t clear yet, but if you were among the few people that used Duo on the web, you might have to suffer the indignity of a redirect, and I doubt that Assistant-connected smart displays will seem any different to customers at all after the change.
There’s already a sense of continuity in these coming changes that I still don’t feel when I think back about things like YouTube Music
All this additional consideration and work to a simple transition reflects a deeper and more mature outlook on Google’s part. Nothing is being killed or ignored and features aren’t left behind. There’s already a sense of continuity in these coming changes that I still don’t feel when I think back about things like YouTube Music. No one is wiping the slate clean in a misguided attempt to start over or abandoning the old and busted for the new hotness. There’s just a deliberate and considered attempt to unify two very clearly related video calling services under a single umbrella, fighting both our image of Google as a company that only kills things and Google as a company that’s obsessed with new messaging services.
With one little but interesting merger, Google is making a concerted effort to contradict both of its customer’s biggest criticisms. While I might be reading too much into this, I think this could be the first sign that Google’s actually paying attention to the reputational damage that it’s done and making an effort to do better, building things together as it grows forward, rather than lazily throwing them away as it lurches from idea to idea.
Google Assistant’s incredibly powerful settings menu may get a big usability upgrade
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