Deals. My gut reaction, and that of many people who have found themselves stuck on the Google rollercoaster — particularly the messaging one — was to sigh in resignation. Will we really get the best of both apps? Can Google’s teams even pull off a merger like this without at least some falling by the wayside? Of course they’ll mess it up, I thought, because that’s their modus operandi. But as I read more about the news, particularly The Verge‘s report that includes a few choice quotes from two Googlers, I had to rectify my knee-jerk reaction. I see a bigger logic at play despite the numerous messaging and calling apps and strategies we’ve had over the last decade or so (Google Talk > Hangouts > Duo > Meet and Chat > the new Google Meet). There’s finally a sense that Google “gets it,” despite the convoluted way in which the transition will happen.
Google will have to drop a number of side initiatives on its way to a more connected environment. Google stated this week that it will merge Meet and Duo, but that the combined venture would retain the finest features of both video chatting applications. This type of information is no longer unexpected. The corporation is well-known for introducing and then mercilessly ditching apps and services on a regular basis. So much so that we have a Google Graveyard dedicated to all of the company’s failed projects. Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2021 is available at 85% discount. (Update: Stock has been replenished!).
I’m talking about the end of a Google that played fast and loose with projects, launching new ones every couple of weeks, killing just as many in the same timespan. A Google that kept realizing that projects it had already spent years on no longer fit within its broader strategy. Or worse yet, another internal team had already implemented something similar with no user-facing connection between the two. A Google that introduced Nexus tablets, then Pixel tablets, then Chrome tablets, then abandoned tablets altogether, only to announce another Pixel tablet for 2023.
Duo will be used as the base of the transition because it is part of Google Mobile Services (GMS) and has been pre-installed on every Google-approved Android device since October 2016. That’s billions and billions of devices that already run the app, so no one will have to download anything to use the new Meet. At least you won’t have to beg your friends to get one more Google messaging app to call you. Crucially, though, this consolidation is one more sign in a long, long series of decisions that seem to be aimed at cleaning up the residual mess of a Google that, from where I’m sitting, doesn’t really exist anymore.
Google is now more focused on establishing an ecosystem. Building on the success of the Pixel 6, it wants to integrate phones, tablets, watches, earbuds, smart home devices, and more. It has had the pieces of the puzzle for years now, but they haven’t worked all that well together. We used to get glimpses of cooperation between them, little hints that our phone and watch could talk to the same voice assistant or that our computer could cast content to our TV, for example. But scratch under the surface and you’d notice that there were limitations. Google Assistant doesn’t have the same capabilities on phones and watches (let alone speakers and computers). The YouTube experience is slightly different between phones, desktop, smart TVs, and cast instances; I still don’t understand how you can’t create a queue on mobile, for example, but can do so on the web or when your phone is casting.
That Google seems like it’s on its way out. I think the signs have been there for a while, but I finally started putting them all together after I/O 2022. During the main conference, I could feel an obvious change. Google was talking about an ecosystem, about products and services working together, and about all the things that I, as a staunch Android user for the past 11 years, have wanted to hear. For once, there was a clear line between the different announcements and a purposeful aim to make each product work with the rest.
But during I/O, Google showed off ways to move things between your phone and tablet. And just two days ago, we saw an upgraded YouTube experience between phones and smart TVs. Nearby Share is slowly morphing into a proper Apple AirDrop competitor. Chrome OS’s Phone Hub is evolving into a solid link between your phone and computer. Fast Pair is more ubiquitous among accessories and is bridging the gap between them and our phones.