In a strange back-to-back release of news and business plans, Google has both updated features of its Hangouts app while also quietly considering a distant shutdown of the service for its non-business clients. It's yet another story of Google's ever-shifting focus trailing away from a service in hopes of moving consumers towards an app's successors, but the official line on its end-of-life cycle has yet to see the light of day.
Hangouts landed back in 2013 and has remained a fairly consistent service since then, offering a fairly wide variety of communication options to help bridge the gap between various platforms. The early days of linking up SMS messages with the average PC user was something of a nightmare, which may have inspired Google's move to assist people in both text and voice communication no matter which machine they happened to be using throughout the day.
Yet something new and shiny rests just over the horizon and Google seems intent on nudging its users towards adopting Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat rather than the legacy option. Consumers are often slow to adapt to new technology and there's always an undercurrent of tech users who are perfectly content with resting on old versions of technology years after its best by date. AOL Instant Messenger lived all the way into 2017, well beyond its initial heyday of chat rooms and semi-anonymous socialisation.
It's been a long and slow shutdown for the user-oriented side of Hangouts, having already gone through the loss of a few features, the death of the Chrome app, a migration to Meet and several other blatant signs that the app was not meant to be a long-term solution for those trying to bridge communications. On the upside, keeping it active until 2020 does ensure those who have built a dependency on its features will have plenty of time to find an alternative or move to Google's newer offerings.
In the long run it doesn't seem like the loss of the original app will be a major blow, but it is a shame to lose another option for those working from home via NBN plans and the like who want to stay in touch with mobile users. If anything, its unique email integration made it a fairly convenient option, whereas offerings like Skype have always hinged on a bloated, outdated piece of software that chews up more time and resources than it ever should have.
It is also important to note that Scott Johnson, Google's Product Lead for Communications, has refuted early reports that hinted the company was intent on ditching the service entirely. He reiterated it's less an abandonment and more a user migration and that no distinct date has been set, though his wording did imply they are planning to remove the service from circulation sooner rather than later.
On the corporate side of the coin, Hangouts Meet now supports up to 100 concurrent users with a focus on business presentations and meetings, ensuring offices of considerable size can draw in every pair of eyes possible. Many video chat protocols struggle to reach such high numbers and a doubling of available slots is an impressive move. No changes have been made to the conference live streaming feature that currently supports 100,000 concurrent users, though it is hard to imagine many business functions hosting a participant number quite that high.
So while it isn't the definite end for Hangouts, it seems like Google's foray into chat unification is seeing a split that could draw more attention to its services than previously thought possible. Wherever users happen to congregate there's almost certain to be a Google app ready and waiting to allow them to talk to one another be it for personal enjoyment or high-intensity business engagements.