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Attack on Slack: Google beefs up its Hangouts services, Meet and Chat

Why it matters to you

Google's new Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat platforms will challenge Slack in a bid for corporate chat dominance.

Hangouts, Google’s multi-platform messaging app, has played second fiddle to the newer, shinier Allo messenger since the latter’s debut last September. That is not surprising — counting Google’s other relatively new Duo messenger, the company has six chat apps. Google’s size aside, it’s difficult for any company to pay equal attention to members of a growing family.

At Google’s Cloud Next conference in San Francisco on Thursday, though, the company paid Hangouts the attention it deserved.

Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat are the next generation of Hangouts. They are the first Google messaging apps aimed exclusively at the business sector, and the search giant’s effective take on Slack, Microsoft Teams, and the other inter-office chat platforms that have begun to sprout up like wildflowers in recent months.

Hangouts Chat

Hangouts Chat, a stand-alone new service that is separate from the existing Hangouts, looks a little like Slack in form and function, but there is no mistaking its lineage. It inherits Hangouts’ one-on-one chat tab, plus its native compatibility with the web, Android, and iOS.

New dedicated, virtual chat rooms offer an easy way to rope in multiple users, and a powerful new search function that can filter by rooms, people, links, and file types mentioned in the course of conversation. Hangouts Chat supports Google Docs and Sheets — you can assign document permissions automatically based on the users who created it. And a native viewer lets participants view photos and videos directly in conversations.

Chat is extensible, too. It boasts @meet, an intelligent bot that uses natural language processing and machine learning to automatically schedule meetings with Google Calendar. And it supports “app scripts” that will allow third-party partners like Asana, Box, Prosperworks, and Zendesk to roll out Hangouts’ chat bots and integrations of their own.

Hangouts Meet

Hangouts Chat is only the first part of Google’s one-two enterprise punch. The company detailed the aforementioned Hangouts Meet, a lightweight video chat service for inter-office meetings.

Hangouts Meet supports up to 30 users in a call, and, if you browse the web with Chrome or Firefox, doesn’t need a browser plugin. Microsoft’s Edge and Apple’s Safari will require a plugin until they gain support for the Web RTC standard.

Perhaps more crucially, Hangouts Meet makes joining meetings a cinch — participants don’t need an account, plugin, or download to join, and can dial in from a conference room, laptop, or the Hangouts Meet app. Invitations integrate with Google Calendar — tapping the calendar entry from an iPhone or Android phone opens the Hangouts Meet app with the number and meeting ID ready to dial. Folks who haven’t been invited can ‘knock’ and ask to join.

Hangouts Chat won’t be available widely, just yet — it will initially roll out to companies in Google’s “early adopter” program. And mum is the word on Hangouts Meet.