Google Meet, Google’s newest video chat service, will soon be free for everyone. The service, which was previously locked behind G Suite, is open to anyone with a Google account.
Users will be able to access the service on meet.google.com or through the iOS and Android apps. Although the service is free now, it will not be forever. Google says after September 30, meetings will be limited to 60 minutes.
If you’ve never heard of “Google Meet” before, don’t feel bad. The brand didn’t appear until the beginning of the month, when Google quietly renamed “Google Hangouts Meet” to “Google Meet”. We previously wrote about Hangouts Meet, and it was launched in 2017 as a restart of Google’s corporate messaging suite, which included Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat. These two 2017 “Hangouts” enterprise products have nothing to do with the widely used and consumer-focused 2013 Google Hangouts chat app, which is still part of Gmail and has long been an Android app by default. Google claims to want to merge all Hangouts products, but you can never be sure of the future of Google’s disorganized messaging strategy.
Just like with its instant messaging strategy over the years, Google has really dropped the ball when it comes to video conferencing apps. Google’s first efforts in video chat started with Gmail video chat in 2008 and culminated in Google Hangouts video chat in 2013. Google has been in video chat for longer than most of its contemporary competitors (other than Skype), but a lack of focus and the constant need to stop a product and then launch a similar product under a different name has left the company running for years. If Google could focus and put massive corporate resources behind a single communications suite that is continually updated and maintained, it could have been an industry leader to date. Instead, Google Meet will be the third Google video chat service on the market, after Google Hangouts and Google Duo.
Employees of the company are also frustrated with Google’s market position. A recent New York Times article details how tech giants like Google and Facebook are chasing Zoom, and ends with a great anecdote:
Philipp Schindler, Google’s business manager, held a video conference with thousands of search giant employees using Google Meet at the end of last month, three people who attended the call said. During the session, an employee asked why Zoom had the biggest benefits when Google had long offered Meet.
Schindler tried to allay the engineer’s concerns, people said. Then her young son tripped over the camera and asked if his father was talking to his colleagues on Zoom. Mr. Schindler tried to correct it, but the boy went on to say how much he and his friends liked to use Zoom.
COVID-19’s on-site shelter requirements have prompted millions of people to turn to homework. This has led to a huge spike in video chat users, but the general availability of Google Meet already seems like it was too late to surf this wave of users. The homeworking trend started two months ago when Google Meet was still locked behind the GSuite payment wall. The zoom was ready and burst into public consciousness as a result. Right now, it looks like most people who are going to switch to a video chat app have already done so and have chosen Zoom.
Google also doesn’t have a strong argument for why someone would switch from Zoom. Google alludes to better security in its blog post, but neither Zoom nor Google Meet is end-to-end encrypted. Both are just “encrypted in transit,” which anyone using an HTTPS connection can claim. Your chat may be private from the wider Internet, but the service provider may be able to view your meeting data. Joining a meeting also requires a Google account, while Zoom allows you to join a meeting without any account. Zoom can secure a meeting with just one password, which gives it a much lower barrier to entry.
Like most Google launches, not everyone will have access to Google Meet immediately. Google says that Google Meet availability will be gradually rolled out to users “over the next few weeks.”