Google announced today that it is combining two video calling apps, Duo and Meet, into one platform. Soon, there will only be Google Meet, and Google hopes it will be the one app that users need for just about everything in their lives.
By combining them, Google hopes it can solve some of the problems that plague modern communication tools. “What was really important was understanding how people would choose what tool they would use, for what purpose, and in what circumstances,” says Javier Soltero, head of Google Workspace. Our digital lives are filled with millions of different chat apps, each with its own rules, rules and contact list, some for business and some for personal. Google hopes you can use Gmail addresses and phone numbers to put it all together. “It’s really important to be able to reach you in this way, and then allow you to decide whether or not to reach you, rather than having to manage all these different identities and deal with the implications,” Soltero says.
Soltero has been advocating this idea of ”accessibility” for most of his time at Google, and this has led to Google incorporating Meet and Chat into many of its other services. It’s a good goal, but it comes at a cost: adding everything to everything makes some Google services messy and complicated. You can start a meeting from anywhere! But… do you really want to? Simplifying the connection options is a good idea, but randomly cramming everything together doesn’t work.
Over the past couple of years in particular, Meet has become a powerful platform for group meetings and conversations of all kinds, while Duo has remained more of a messaging app. Google is promising to bring all the features of Duo to Meet from now on and seems convinced that it can offer the best of both worlds.
It’s not quite right to say Duo gets killed, though. The app, which Google originally launched in 2016 as an easy way to make one-on-one video calls, does a number of useful things that Meet doesn’t. For one thing, you can call someone directly — including their phone number — instead of relying on sending links or hitting that giant Meet button on a Google Calendar invite. Duo has always been more like FaceTime than Zoom in this sense. (Google also launched an iMessage competitor, Allo, at the same time as Duo. Allo wasn’t great.)
As the two services become one, Google is relying on the Duo mobile app as the default app. Soon, Duo will get an update that brings the onslaught of Meet features to the platform; Later this year, the Duo app will be renamed Google Meet. The current Meet app will be called “Meet Original”, and will eventually be discontinued.
This sounds…confusing, but Google claims it’s the best way forward. “The Duo mobile app has had a lot of sophistication, especially under the hood,” says Dave Citron, product manager for Google’s video products. “Especially in emerging markets, where network connectivity has been minimal or highly variable.” On the web, it’s different; Meet is the web’s most advanced platform, forming the basis of the new embedded platform. But either way, “the idea is 100% functionality,” Citron said, “combined forces, and no user is left behind.”
This is yet another attempt by Google to unite some of its previously disparate parts, making Google’s suite of services more meaningful and cohesive. Soltero said that as Meet has grown during the pandemic, it has become the obvious place for Google to focus its audio and video efforts moving forward. He hopes that over time, the Meet brand can mean more than just “meeting.”
Getting that right will be difficult for Google. If you want to build a multipurpose multipurpose platform for voice calls and video calls, you should get a lot of little things right. Does every device and browser tab you’re signed into have to ring every time you get a call? (Google says no, and it gets better at recognizing the device you’re already using and sending calls and notifications to that device.) Should you be able to receive calls on your personal device and work device at the same time? (There’s no good answer yet, but Soltero said he’s leading the way to find out.)
Meet is already so integrated into so many Google services that it could become a useful competitor to WhatsApp and FaceTime practically overnight, but only if it can integrate without being annoying or complicated.