OK, now that we're all on the same page (right? All of them?), The first piece of news on the blog post is that Google Chat is going online for consumer accounts "in the first half of 2021" The service was launched as a business-centric G Suite app (G Suite is now called Google Workspace). You originally had to pay for G Suite to access Google Chat. But in 2021 it will be free for everyone. Google wants a "smooth transition" from Google Hangouts to Chat and "automatically migrates your Hangouts conversations along with contacts and saved history".
The slow death of Hangouts
With the rise of Google Chat, Google Hangouts will die. Google announced this back in 2018. Now we get more information about the service's slow shutdown and transition plans for the services that rely on it. We have already noticed that Hangouts are losing location sharing and SMS support. In the blog post, Google announced that phone calls, Google Fi support, and Google Voice support will soon be banned from the service.
First up is the loss of Google Fi SMS, which begins "in the next few weeks". Google Fi can use your phone text messaging app to send messages. However, since it is a true cell phone service, it can also receive SMS messages through Hangouts. Hangouts has apps for Android, a Chrome extension, and two web access points – Gmail and hangouts.google.com – making it easy to use Google Fi. For Google users, it was also the home of their non-text messaging, so you have it all in one convenient app. While Google does chat for Hangouts, it doesn't do that functionality. If you want Google Fi messaging, you will soon have to be using Google Messages, the Android SMS app.
Google Messages only has an Android app and a web app. The Messages web app is currently relaying data from your phone. Hence, your phone needs to be turned on for it to work and you need to log in by scanning a QR code from your phone. Google notes that Fi users can use web messaging "even when the phone is turned off". So it seems that the normal login functionality is finally coming to service.
Google Voice is also losing the Hangouts integration this month. Voice has its own phone apps and a web app that you'll soon have to use.
The death of phone calls in Google Hangouts is apparently due to the "new telecommunications regulations being introduced in the EU and the US from 2021". Google isn't explaining what these new regulations are, but the schedule is in line with an FCC mandate for VoIP services that includes the location with 911 calls through January 2021.
Google chat isn't terrible
Enlarge /. The Google Chat web application. It's good.
This is all very reminiscent of the other major Google shutdown that is taking place: the transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. While YouTube Music is far from finished and Google Music users can count on numerous functions, Google Chat is a suitable replacement for Hangouts. For some reason, I already have access to my Google customer account and was able to message my existing Hangouts contacts. There are no noticeable features missing, and the user interface is modern and straightforward. It's not done yet, mainly due to transition issues. I can't join group chats or add new contacts. Only a certain number of my contacts have been marked as chat compatible. The core messaging looks great though, and when both people are in the chat you get great features like editing messages. It's not a competitive service compared to messaging ecosystems that don't restart every two years. However, if you just want to send messages and pictures back and forth across all of your devices, that's fine.
As with Google Music, however, Google is going backwards again by shutting down an old service faster than the new one. Those transitions would be much smoother if Google made the new app fully functional first and shut down the old app later after people moved on. Slowly exiting existing apps with no usable replacement available doesn't just feel bad. It opens up the option for users to fully secure Google services.
While Hangouts will lose more features this month, we don't have a final shutdown date for the service yet.