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Google Chat going free in 2021, classic Hangouts migration detailed for Fi, Voice

At the tail end of 2018, we reported on Google’s plans to replace Hangouts with Chat and Meet. The company later confirmed the news and has since been moving enterprise users to those two apps. Google is now ready to start detailing how it will transition classic Hangouts users to a free version of Chat.

This development follows last week’s Google Workspace rebrand, which is already available for enterprise customers. Consumers are set to get this integrated offering next year but already have access to free versions of Gmail, Drive, Calendar, and — most recently — Meet. What will be new to free accounts is Chat, with Google having yet to extensively detail its plans. 

Google Chat

That’s changing today to give users an early heads-up, though final “timing may shift.” Similar to Hangouts, the free version of Google Chat will be usable inside Gmail and as a standalone application. 

Chat includes familiar Hangouts features like direct and group messaging, with helpful additions like send to inbox, faster search, emoji reactions and suggested replies. 

Functionality in this upcoming version will not differ from what’s available to paying users today. Google is positioning the free Chat as helping you collaborate with others on personal projects. This includes access to Rooms, which are larger than group conversations and aimed at teams. In effect, Google is notably offering a Slack and Discord competitor.

With Chat, you can more easily plan with others on goals and similar interests, share and collaborate on files, and assign tasks to help keep everyone on the same page.

The migration from classic Hangouts to a free Chat will start in the first half of 2021, with users able to easily move conversations, history, and contacts. “More specific guidance” is coming before the process gets underway.

Google also provided an enterprise update today. Starting in Q2 2021, all customers will be moved to Chat unless Workspace admins explicitly opt out. In “late 2021,” there will be a “mandatory upgrade” where classic Hangouts is fully replaced by Chat.

Google Fi

Hangouts today is still intertwined with Google’s current messaging apps. Those integrations are being unwound, starting with Google Fi. 

When support is removed “early next year,” Hangouts will no longer be able to make Fi calls or send SMS. Google says that Fi users over time have been moving away from classic Hangouts to the native dialer and texting app.

To further drive that migration, Messages for web is adding support for making Fi voice calls and checking voicemail, to augment the existing capability to send/receive texts. This will work even when your phone is off, with the ability to migrate existing Hangouts conversations also coming. This new Messages by Google functionality is coming in the “next few weeks,” while end-users will start to see warnings in October to move away from Hangouts.

Google Voice

Meanwhile, Hangouts will no longer ring when you get an incoming Voice call. Existing users this month will be prompted to use the Google Voice app on Android, iOS, and the web full-time. This is ahead of Voice support in Hangouts also going away early next year.

Classic Hangouts app

The most immediate change applies to the standalone Hangouts apps and will come into effect next month. Google is integrating Meet into Hangouts to provide a more modern calling experience than what’s currently offered. When making a 1:1 video call, users can either ring the other person (like before), or automatically generate and send a Google Meet link. For group calls, the only option starting in November will be using Meet.

Lastly, early next year, Hangouts is getting rid of the ability to call domestic and international phone numbers. This is due to upcoming US and EU regulation, with existing credits getting refunded.  

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: