Google’s strategy for messaging apps has been a bit of a mess in recent years, but the company is hoping to clear things up (for real this time!) by focusing on Allo and Duo chat and video apps for consumers, and turning Hangouts into more of an enterprise service.
The latter is already available for G Suite customers, and it’s a video conferencing service that lets up to 30 people join a meeting just by clicking a link shared by the creator of the meeting. It’s integrated into other G Suite apps including Calendar, allowing you to schedule meetings. And Enterprise Edition customers can also get a dial-in phone number for every meeting.
Hangouts Chat, meanwhile, is an updated text chat service for mobile devices or desktop computers (with a web app). It’s like a souped up version of the existing Hangouts app with support for rooms (or group chats), threaded messages, and integration with G Suite and Google Drive for sharing files and documents, among other things.
Google is making Hangouts Chat available first to members of the Early Adopter program.
What about folks who aren’t looking for a business solution? Hangouts has been the default chat service for Android phones and tablets, Gmail users, and other folks using Google services for ages. Allo may have some slick new features, but it’s not a full replacement. Among other things, it’s still a mobile-only service (for now).
While Google’s announcement doesn’t mention the consumer version of Hangouts, The Verge reports that there will continue to be some sort of “freemium” version available for end users. That means some basic features will be available for free, but Google may charge a fee if you want to use some of the features that are normally only available to paying G Suite customers.