Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Hangouts, once Google’s do-everything communication app, has gotten increasingly focused over time as the company has transitioned key features to other apps. For people in organizations–meaning anyone who used Hangouts with a Google Workspace account–the company intends to entirely replace Hangouts with other apps by the end of 2021.

If you still use Hangouts (Figure A), you’ll need to take action to retain access to key features as they’re gradually moved out of the app. Take the following steps to maintain access to similar sets of features, albeit now distributed across several apps.

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Switch from Google Hangouts to Google Meet for video conferencing

Google Meet, which is available for Android, iOS and the web, gives you a highly capable video conferencing tool. It replaces the video meeting features once found in Hangouts. No longer do you Hangout; now you Meet. Anyone with a Google account may use Meet.

Switch from Google Hangouts to Messages for SMS

Switch to Messages for SMS communications on Android. Messages not only supports SMS and MMS texting, but also the newer Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol. RCS is intended to replace SMS over the long term. If you use Messages on Android, you also may access Messages for the web.

Switch from Google Hangouts to Google Voice for phone calls

Google Voice (on Android, iOS and the web), provides plenty of calling capabilities, along with spam filtering, voicemail transcription, call screening and more. Install the Google Voice app to continue making and receiving calls with your Google Voice number.

Figure A

People with Gmail and non-organizational Google accounts can continue to use classic Hangouts, as shown here. People with organizational Workspace accounts, though, will need to transition to Google Chat, along with other Google apps.

Switch from Google Hangouts to Google Chat

The move to Google Chat can be a bit trickier than any of the above changes. With Meet, Messages and Voice, you install each app and then use it to make the change, but the transition from Hangouts to Google Chat is a more gradual process.

Note: People who use Hangouts with a Gmail or standard Google account (not an organizational account) may continue to do so. The following applies to organizational accounts.

For people in organizations, Google Chat (on Android, iOS and the web), not only supports 1:1 and group messaging, it also includes support for Rooms and Bots (Figure B). Rooms are intended to serve as a space where you can collaborate and communicate with a team of people. Bots help you with specific tasks, such as scheduling a time to Meet (or alternatively, Zoom), or alerting you to comments or change to Drive files.

Figure B

Google Chat offers a variety of features, including 1:1 chat, group chat, Rooms (for team communication and collaboration) and Bots (to help automate tasks).

If you use a Google Workspace account–at work, at school or for a nonprofit organization–a Workspace administrator can configure settings that control your access to Hangouts and to Google Chat. See a companion article to this one, What Google Workspace admins need to know about the Hangouts to Chat transition, for more details about these Admin options. This administrative setting affects whether you can access Hangouts or Google Chat within Gmail on the web. It can also enable or prevent access to either app entirely.

Google has worked to make communications between people who use Hangouts and people who use Google Chat as smooth as possible. For most chats, you can freely switch back and forth between Hangouts and Google Chat. There are also many fundamental distinctions and differences between how the two chat apps operate.

A line from “Ghostbusters” offers excellent advice for people during the Hangouts to Google Chat transition: “Don’t cross the streams.” If at all possible, make the switch from Hangouts to Google Chat as a group, in coordination with the team of people you collaborate and communicate with closely. Decide on a day, install Google Chat and start to use that as your primary app. Unless your administrator turns off access, keep Hangouts installed or bookmarked and adjust notification settings as desired.

If you do end up having to “cross the streams,” meaning you and the people you communicate with are using a mix of Hangouts and Google Chat across platforms and/or organizations, expect occasional oddities, omissions and gaps. Google has provided a long list of details on a help page, for detail-oriented people who want to know exactly what will and won’t work.

What’s your experience?

Have you already added any of the above apps to replace features once found in Hangouts? If so, what was your experience? If you use Google Workspace, has your team already made the move from Hangouts to Google Chat? Or do you plan to continue to use both Hangouts and Chat during the transition period? Let me know how you’ve handled these changes, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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