In the past week, two 9to5Google reports unveiled the fate of two Google messaging apps: Hangouts is shutting down in 2020 and Allo is shutting down “soon.” Google has now gone on record to explain the plan.
Google Hangouts is not shutting down, but the classic version is being replaced, and Google is not sharing when. All Hangouts users will be transitioned to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, just like enterprise users have been. In the meantime, Chat and Meet are being actively updated. Meet last week doubled its participation limit to 100.
Google Allo is shutting down in March 2019. Allo features will continue to make their way to (Android) Messages, part of Google’s rich communication services (RCS) strategy.
Google Duo was also mentioned today, but nothing is changing there. Unlike Allo, Duo has found a set of loyal users (Google says Duo is one of its “highest rated mobile apps”). Duo now works on Android phones, Android tablets, iPhones, iPads, Chromebooks, and Smart Displays. Today, the app gained the ability to send video messages.
Allo is dead, long live Android Messages
Allo launched in September 2016 as Google’s attempt to build a modern messaging app from scratch. The team learned a ton from the effort, but Allo was largely an exercise. It was doomed from the start, and all the updates were merely feature additions — there was never a focus on growing adoption.
Google “paused” work on Allo in April, but it was clear that the app’s days were numbered. Google had turned its focus to Messages, the default SMS app on Android (unless the carrier decides to change it). Google has so far partnered with over 40 carriers and device makers and says over 175 million Android users now have Messages — a number Allo never even got close to.
So Allo is dead. If you want to save your Allo messages, you can download your chats or media until March.
Messages is Google’s plan to push RCS so that Android phones can offer features like group messaging, IP voice calls, read receipts, and file sharing. The service is powered by the Jibe RCS cloud (Google acquired Jibe in September 2015).
That’s the dream, anyway. Plenty of Android phones don’t use Messages by default or don’t have it at all, phones or carriers or both don’t support it, and there are plenty of different RCS variants. Upgrading SMS and MMS to RCS is a great long-term goal. As I’ve argued before, however, Google shouldn’t be betting everything on RCS, as it can’t support features that other messaging apps do, such as end-to-end encryption.
But with Allo out of the way, Google has more reason to augment Android Messages with Allo features, falling back to RCS if the recipient isn’t using Messages or some other app with RCS support, and to SMS if they’re on an even older device.
Smart Reply, GIFs, and desktop support have already been ported from Allo to Messages. Google Assistant integration is the obvious next step. Indeed, Google dropped that hint today not so subtlety: “We’ve learned a lot from Allo, particularly what’s possible when you incorporate machine learning features, like the Google Assistant, into messaging.”
Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet
Google announced in March 2017 that it was splitting the Hangouts platform into two core services: Hangouts Chat, a Slack-like platform for teams, and Hangouts Meet, a Skype-like videoconferencing application. But that left the classic version of Hangouts in limbo, hence news that the app was going away.
We contacted Google last week for some clarification. First we received the standard line about the company not commenting on rumor and speculation.
But then this tweet happened:
Hey @hallstephenj, I run Hangouts and this is pretty shoddy reporting. No decisions made about when Hangouts will be shut down. Hangouts users will be upgraded to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. Your source is severely misinformed. You can do better.
— Scott Johnston (@happyinwater) December 1, 2018
So we asked again, and Google sent over this statement:
In March 2017, we announced plans to evolve classic Hangouts to focus on two experiences that help bring teams together: Hangouts Chat and Hangouts. Both Chat and Meet are available today for G Suite customers and will be made available for consumer users, too. We have not announced an official timeline for transitioning users from classic Hangouts to Chat and Meet. We are fully committed to supporting classic Hangouts users until everyone is successfully migrated to Chat and Meet.
Now, Google is adding a tiny bit more. G Suite users who have Hangouts Chat will be able to include people from outside of their organization “in the coming months.” Google did not say when, but it did share that Chat and Meet “will be made available for existing Hangouts users, too.” Overall though, Hangouts will continue to have an enterprise focus, just across two apps.
So in summary, Android Messages and Google Duo for consumers, Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet for enterprise. But of course enterprise users can use the former two and consumers will soon be able to use the latter two.