Google has been planning to move away from its Hangouts communications platform for almost two years, with reports about the plans surfacing in late November 2018. In January of the following year, the company confirmed its intentions to replace the classic Hangouts experience with Hangouts Chat (now simply called Google Chat) but ended up delaying those plans to 2020. Today, the Mountain View giant shared an update on the transition, and there's a lot to unpack.
For starters, and perhaps most notably, Google Chat will become available for everyone - business users or not - in 2021. Users will have the option to migrate to the new experience starting in the first half of next year, and Google will try to carry over the conversations, contacts, and saved history from Hangouts to the new service.
That means Hangouts is also losing some capabilities. For one thing, Google is removing Fi support in Hangouts, as the company says that despite the improvements it delivered to the experience, more users have been moving away from the service to manage their texts and calls. Instead, this experience will be built into the Messages app. Likewise, Hangouts is dropping support for Google Voice for users of the service, and they'll be directed to use the Voice app for texting and calling through their Google Voice number.
Additionally, Hangouts will lose the ability to call phones altogether in 2021, which Google says is a requirement to comply with new regulations in the EU and United States. Users can get refunds for their calling starting this month before the feature is gutted entirely. In November, Google is also "upgrading" the group video calling experience with Google Meet to offer better quality meetings.
For business users, there is some good news, as the transition won't be forced on them just yet. In a separate blog post, the company announced that phase 4 of the migration process - where users start being upgraded automatically with the ability to opt out - will begin next year, no earlier than the second quarter of the year. The upgrade will only become mandatory in late 2021.