After giving Hangouts API a death sentence in January, it appears Google is already gearing for the launch of its overhauled Hangouts service and app. A demo even shows that it's got interactive chat bots now, as well as new group chat rooms that are reminiscent of Slack’s features in more ways than one.
Just this Thursday, The Verge got its hands on the demo version of the new Hangouts service following its makeover. The tech publication quickly noticed how Google’s messaging app has transformed into a business communication tool that complements the Mountain View giant’s consumer app, Allo. Gone are the days when Hangouts was there to target the general public, for it has now turned into a group chat system that is very comparable to Stewart Butterfield’s Slack, a cloud-based team collaboration tool.
It comes easy to draw the parallel lines between the new Hangouts and Slack. With the new version of Google’s service, users will be provided with interactive support by a chat bot called @meet. This chat bot pretty much does the same things as Slack’s bot, since it is mindful of every group chat member’s activity. The Hangouts chat bot is also designed to facilitate smoother virtual gatherings by automatically taking note and even suggesting meeting times, which will then be scheduled in Google Calendar.
The biggest change in Hangouts is the introduction of new group chat rooms. Mind you, this version of Hangouts still allows one-on-one conversations. But it’s hard not to notice the big improvement in how the app handles group chats. The new group chat rooms help in carrying out productive conversations, for they offer threaded messages.
Google also ensured that users of the overhauled Hangouts will find it easier to share documents by deeply integrating Google Docs and Sheets into the service. Document permissions are also a thing, so creators of the chat group can see to it that only authorized team members can access confidential files.
Despite the obvious similarities between the new Hangouts and Slack, Google says the inspiration behind the overhaul was its free Web-based e-mail service Gmail. “We learned a lot from threading Gmail,” Google’s director of product management for Drive Scott Johnston told TechCrunch. “But it’s also a constant tuning because everyone is just so trained in iMessage and the flat ones. That makes sense in lightweight chat, but when you need to be able to drill in, it breaks down.”
The new features of Hangouts — which, by the way, goes by the name Hangouts Chat — will only be available to G Suite customers who apply for access post launch. For now, the improved service is only available to businesses in the Early Adopter Program. Also, Google intends to make the overhauled service follow a “fremium” model. This basically means that Gmail users will be able to download the app for free, but certain features are going to cost them some money.
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