Google announced today that it will merge Duo and Meet, two of its video-calling apps, into a single platform. Soon, Google Meet will be the sole calling app consumers will need for almost everything in their lives, and Google hopes it will be that app.
Google hopes that by combining the two, it will be able to address some of the issues that plague modern communication systems. “What’s been incredibly crucial is learning how people choose what tool they’re going to use, for what purpose, in what environment,” says Javier Soltero, Google Workspace’s director.
There are a million different chat applications in our digital lives, each with its own set of rules, standards, and contact list, some for work and some for personal use. Google is seeking to connect everything with Gmail addresses and phone numbers. “It’s incredibly crucial and powerful to be able to contact you that way,” Soltero adds, “and allow you to choose whether or not you want to be reached, rather than having to manage all of these other identities and deal with the consequences.”
For the majority of his time at Google, Soltero has preached the concept of “reachability,” which has prompted Google to integrate Meet and Chat into so many of its other services. It’s a noble ambition, but it comes with a cost: adding everything to everything has crowded and complicated some of Google’s services. A meeting can be started from any location! But… are you sure you want to? It’s a good idea to streamline your communication options, but slamming everything together at random won’t work.
Meet has evolved into a robust platform for meetings and group conversations of all kinds in recent years, whereas Duo has remained primarily a messaging software. Google claims it will bring all of Duo’s capabilities to Meet in the future, and it appears to believe it can provide the best of both worlds.
But it’s not exactly accurate to claim Duo is being murdered. The software, which was first released by Google in 2016 as a simple way to make one-to-one video calls, does a few things that Meet doesn’t. For one thing, rather than sending links or clicking the large Meet button on your Google Calendar invite, you may call someone directly — including with their phone number. In that regard, Duo has always been closer to FaceTime than Zoom. (At the same time as Duo, Google released Allo, an iMessage competitor.) Allo didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.)
Google is favoring Duo’s mobile app as the default as the two services merge. The Duo app will be updated soon, bringing a slew of Meet capabilities to the platform; the Duo app will be rebranded as Google Meet later this year. The current Meet app will be renamed “Meet Original” and will be phased out over time.
This seems a little perplexing, but Google claims it’s the best option. “There was a lot of sophistication in the Duo Mobile app, especially beneath the hood,” says Dave Citron, director of products for Google’s video products. “This was especially true in emerging areas, where network access was patchy at best.” On the web, things are different; Meet is a considerably more developed online platform, and it serves as the foundation for the new integrated system. However, in both circumstances, Citron explained, “the aim is 100 percent of the capabilities, joined forces, and no users left behind.”
This is another attempt by Google to bring together some of its previously fragmented pieces, resulting in a more coherent and integrated Google suite of services. According to Soltero, as Meet grew in popularity during the pandemic, it became clear that it would be the best place for Google to focus its voice and video efforts in the future. And he hopes that the Meet brand will grow to mean more than “meeting” over time.
It will be difficult for Google to do this properly. It must get a lot of small things right if it wants to establish a cross-platform, cross-purpose platform for audio and video chats. When you get a call, should every device and browser tab you’re signed into the ring? (Google claims no, although it’s getting better at figuring out which device you’re using and sending calls and notifications to that device.) Should you be able to receive calls on both your personal and professional devices? (There’s no definitive answer yet, but Soltero says he’s spearheading the push to find out.)
The meet is now integrated into so many Google services that it may quickly become a viable WhatsApp and FaceTime competitor, but only if it can integrate without being inconvenient or difficult.