Okay, now that we’re all on the same page (right? Everyone?), The first piece of news in the blog post is that Google Chat will be released live for user accounts “from the first half of 2021.” The service launched as a business-oriented G Suite application (G Suite is now called “Google Workspace”), so accessing Google Chat initially required you to pay for G Suite. But in 2021 it will be free for all. Google says it wants a “smooth transition” from Google Hangouts to chat, and will “automatically migrate your Hangouts conversations, including contacts and saved history.”
The slow death of Hangouts
With the rise of Google Chat, Google Hangouts will die. Google initially announced this in 201
In the first place is the loss of Google Fi SMS, which starts “in the next few weeks.” Google Fi can use your phone’s SMS app to send messages, but because it’s a real mobile phone service, it can also receive text messages via Hangouts. Hangouts has Android apps, a Chrome extension, and two web access points – Gmail and hangouts.google.com – so it was a super easy way to use Google Fi. For Google users, this was also the home of their non-SMS messages, so you have it all in one convenient app. While Google Chat takes over the Hangouts feature, it doesn’t use that functionality. If you want messages from Google Fi, you’ll soon need to use Google Messages, the Android SMS app.
Google Messages only has an Android app and a web app. The Messages web app currently works by forwarding data from your phone, so your phone must be turned on 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 messaging “even when their phone is turned off,” so it looks like normal sign-in functionality will finally come to the service.
Google Voice is also losing Hangouts integration this month. Voice has its own phone apps and web app and you will need to use them soon.
The death of phone calls in Google Hangouts is apparently due to the fact that “the new telecommunications regulations are being introduced in the EU and the US from 2021.” Google does not explain what these new regulations are, but the timing is combined with the FCC’s mandate for VoIP services to include a location with 911 calls by January 2021.
Google Chat is not terrible
All of this is very reminiscent of the other big Google shutdown that is happening right now: the transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. Although YouTube Music isn’t nearly ready and Google Music users can expect to lose a lot of features, Google Chat is actually pretty good as a replacement for Hangouts. For some reason, I already have access to it on my Google profile, and I’ve been free to send messages to my existing Hangouts contacts. Missing features are missing and the user interface is modern and clear. It is not ready yet, mostly due to problems with the transition. I can’t participate in group chats and I can’t add new contacts, only a certain number of my contacts are marked as chat compatible. Basic messages look great, and if you’re both chatting, you get great features like message editing. This is by no means a competitive service compared to messaging ecosystems that don’t reboot every two years, but if you just want to send messages and photos back and forth to all your devices, fine.
However, as with Google Music, Google is going backwards, shutting down an old service faster than building a new one. These transitions would become much smoother if Google first made the new app fully functional and then shut down the old app later as people move forward. Slowly destroying its existing applications without a viable replacement doesn’t just feel bad; it opens the door for users to completely abandon Google services.
Although Hangouts will lose more features this month, we still don’t have a final date to stop the service.