In 2021, Google Hangouts is fading away and Google Chat is taking its place. So if you’re a seasoned Hangouts user—after all, the service has been around for seven years at this point—what do you need to do to prepare? What’s going to happen to your years of chat logs? And what will replace the Hangouts box in your Gmail?
Google’s messaging products are confusing, and it doesn’t help that Google has separate setups for individual users with personal accounts and those who log into Google services as part of their jobs, with features (such as Google Chat) rolling out at different times and in different ways.
The headline news for Google Hangouts users is that the service is going to be retired and replaced by two products migrating over from Google’s business product (formerly known as G Suite and now known as Google Workspace). There’s no getting away from it—you’re going to get moved over.
These two replacement products were first launched in 2017, as professional spin-offs of Hangouts for the workplace in G Suite originally called Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. In 2020, they’re called Google Chat and Google Meet, and they’re going back to consumers to replace the app they originally grew out of. Confused yet? We’ll explain.
Google Chat and Google Meet, the two services replacing Hangouts, focus on text chat and video calls, respectively. Google Chat is Google’s version of Slack or Microsoft Teams, so you can use it for direct messages or group discussions, either in private conversations or on private or public boards.
Google Meet, meanwhile, is Google’s version of Zoom: It lets you video chat with one or lots of people. Recently, Meet was introduced into classic Hangouts, so if you launch a group video call in Hangouts now, you’ll get a Google Meet link to share. (As for Google Duo, the rumor is that it will be replaced by Google Meet eventually, but that’s yet to be confirmed.)
This recent Meet integration shows how Google is picking away at the functionality of classic Hangouts, piece by piece. In the last couple of months, Google has also retired Hangouts support for Google Fi and Google Voice integration, and removed the ability to call phone numbers through the Hangouts app as well.
Expect more features to drop away from Hangouts in the weeks to come. In the first half of 2021, Google says, Chat will fully replace Hangouts. Exactly what that means and exactly how it’s going to be done remains to be seen—and the timing might shift along the way, too—but we do know some details about how it’s all going to work.
When Google decides to pull the plug on Hangouts, it’ll be completely replaced by Google Chat—both as a standalone app you can run on your phone, and as a little box in the corner of Gmail on the web. Unlike Hangouts, it looks as though Chat will get a tab in the Gmail mobile app, too (there’s already a Meet one there).
If you’re a Hangouts user, you might be able to try out Google Chat right now in your browser (your chat contacts and history should all load up correctly). From this screen you can see some of the new features that Chat brings, including emoji reactions to messages and access to rooms (the Chat equivalent of channels on Slack). Group chats from Hangouts don’t show up in the new Chat app yet, however.
While we still don’t know exactly how Hangouts will morph into Chat in 2021, the web app shows how some of the features are going to work. You can now, for example, turn chat history on or off based on individual contacts, rather than using a global setting. As before, your conversations get backed up into Gmail if history is turned on, though it’s not clear if this will continue once Hangouts disappears completely.
Something else we’re not sure of is just how many of the business or premium Google Chat features will be available to consumers—maybe all of them, or maybe just a selection. Google Chat is already available for Android and iOS, but only to users currently signed up for Google Workspace (previously G Suite).
“Starting in the first half of 2021, everyone can begin upgrading from Hangouts to Chat,” Google announced. “To ensure a smooth transition, we will help automatically migrate your Hangouts conversations, along with contacts and saved history. We’ll share more specific guidance on what steps you can take when we begin the transition process.”
It seems as though the transition from Hangouts to Chat will be fairly painless—or at least that’s the theory. Consumer users of the classic Hangouts app will be migrated to Google Chat free of charge, without the monthly fees that business users are currently paying for the service.
Google has promised that all your conversation threads and chat contacts will be moved over seamlessly. We have no reason to doubt that, but just in case, remember that you can export your entire Google Hangouts archive to a computer via Google Takeout (make sure you just select Hangouts unless you want everything else as well).
Fingers crossed that, for most of us, the switch from Hangouts to Chat will be little more than a rebranding exercise (which might have been a better way for Google to sell it to begin with). Everything in Hangouts should still be available in Chat, and you’ll get a few extra features, so it should go more smoothly than the jump from Google Play Music to YouTube Music.