Google’s approach to messaging has a reputation for being confusing, and so the search behemoth is trying to make a little clearer what’s happening with Hangouts, Google Chat, and integration with other products. At the moment, Chat co-exists with Hangouts, with the latter also integrated with Google Fi and Google Voice, and you could also be using Chat within Gmail.
At times, indeed, it can feel like Google has a messaging strategy and app for every person, individually, but the goal is to get everyone on the same platform – even if they’re interacting with it in different ways. Eventually, Google Hangouts will evolve completely into Google Chat, but you’d be forgiven for not quite understanding how and when that’ll happen.
Next year, Google says, Chat will be released as a free service. It’ll be available as a standalone app, but also integrated into Gmail. Currently, Chat is part of Google Workspace which launched earlier this month; currently, that’s available to business users, but from next year it’ll be offered to everybody else, too.
From the first half of 2021, then, you’ll be able to upgrade from Hangouts to Chat. Existing Hangouts conversations – along with saved history and contacts – will automatically be migrated across, too. A lot of it will be familiar stuff, since Chat supports features from Hangouts like group messaging.
Here’s how Google Fi users will be affected by Hangouts’ changes
Early in the new year, Google says, Hangouts is going to lose Google Fi support. That, the company explains, is because more and more Fi subscribers are using the service for their messaging and calling, leaving Hangouts behind.
To make that transition easier, Google is going to add SMS and phone calls for Fi users in Messages by Google. You’ll be able to make voice calls and check your voicemail, including through the Messages for web interface, as well as manage Messages conversations across devices. Existing Hangouts conversations will support migration into Messages, too, with more information about that – and all the other changes – coming later this month, Google promises.
For Google Voice, Hangouts will eventually lose support
Google Voice has so far had pretty tight integrations with Hangouts. You’ve been able to receive calls to a Voice number in the Hangouts app, for example. From this month, however, Google plans to direct Hangouts Voice users to the full Voice app, if they want to do text messaging or calling.
Early in 2021, Google says, Hangouts will lose Google Voice support altogether. It’s not the only big change that the app faces.
Hangouts is losing a feature before it’s retired
From early in 2021, Google plans to remove the “call phones” feature in Hangouts. There’ll be notifications warning users of that deadline from this month, along with instructions on how to get a refund on any calling credits you might have in the app. Google says it’s a reaction to the upcoming telecoms regulation changes that the EU and US are bringing in come 2021.
It’s not the only change. Come November, Google says, it plans to update the group video calling experience in Hangouts with Meet to improve on quality.