Meet and Duo combining into a Single App: Google for Voice and Video calls

Google announced today that it’s integrating two of its video-calling apps, Duo and Meet, into a single platform. Relatively soon, there will be only Google Meet, and Google’s hoping it can be the one calling app users to demand just about everything in their lives.

By getting them both together, Google’s hoping it can solve some of what ails modern communication tools. “What’s been important is understanding how people decide what tool they’re going to use, for what purpose, in what possibility,” says Javier Soltero, the head of Google Workspace.

Our digital lives are filled with a million additional chat apps, each with its own rules, standards, and contact list, some for work purposes and some for personal ones. Google wishes to use Gmail addresses and phone numbers to get all that together. “It’s essential and powerful to reach you that way,” Soltero says, “and allow you then to determine whether you want to be reached, as opposed to handling all of these different identities and dealing with the consequences.”

Soltero has been evangelizing this idea of “reachability” for most of his tenure at Google. It has led Google to incorporate Meet and Chat into many of its other services. It’s a good plan, but it comes at a cost: adding everything to everything has created some of Google’s services confused and complicated. Of course, you can start a meeting from anywhere! But… do you want to? Streamlining your communication alternatives is a good idea, but haphazardly cramming everything together doesn’t work.

Over the last couple of years, Meet has become a powerful medium for meetings and group chats of all kinds, while Duo has dwelled more of a messaging app. However, Google promises it’s bringing all of Duo’s components to Meet going forward and seems persuaded it can deliver the best of both worlds.

It’s not right to say that Duo’s being killed, though. The app, which Google initially launched in 2016 as an easy way to make one-to-one video calls, does several valuable things that Meet doesn’t. For one thing, you can call someone instantly — including with their phone number — rather than depending on sending links or hitting that giant Meet switch in your Google Calendar invite. Duo has forever been more like FaceTime than Zoom in that sense. 

As the two assistants become one, Google relies on Duo’s mobile app as the default. The Duo app will fetch an update that conveys an onslaught of Meet features into the forum; later this year, the Duo app will be renamed Google Meet. Likewise, the current Meet app will be named “Meet Original” and eventually deprecated.

It sounds … disjointed, but Google asserts it’s the most suitable way forward. “The Duo mobile app included a lot of refinement, especially under the hood,” states Dave Citron, the director of products for Google’s video products. “Especially in arising markets, where network connectivity was scant or highly variable.” On the web, it’s different; Meet is the much more developed web platform that forms the base of the new combined system. But in both cases, “the idea is 100% of the functionality,” Citron said, “combined forces, and no users left behind.”

It is yet another effort from Google to unify some of its previously disparate parts, making the Google suite of services make more coherent and cohesive sense. Soltero said that as Meet has grown during the pandemic, it became a prominent place for Google to concentrate its voice and video efforts. And he’s hopeful that over time, the Meet brand can come to mean more than just “meeting.”

Getting this right will be tricky for Google. If it wants to build a cross-platform, cross-purpose platform for audio and video calls, it has to get many little things right. For example, should every single device and browser tab you’re signed in to ring every time you get a call? (Google says no, and that it’s getting better at recognizing which device you’re using and sending calls and notifications to that one.) Likewise, should you be able to get calls on your personal and work devices simultaneously? (No good answer yet, but Soltero said he’s leading the charge to figure it out.)

The Meet is already baked into so many Google services that it could become a meaningful WhatsApp and FaceTime competitor overnight, but only if it can integrate without being annoying or complicated.

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Features of Google Meet include:

  • An accompanying chat
  • Two-way and multi-way video and audio calls with a resolution of up to 720p
  • Call encryption between all users
  • Low-light mode for video
  • Noise-canceling audio filter
  • Ability to unite meetings through a web browser or Android or iOS apps
  • Integration with Google Contacts and Google Calendar for one-click meeting calls
  • Screen-sharing to deliver documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or (if using a browser) other browser tabs
  • Ability to call into meetings employing a dial-in number in the US
  • Hosts can deny entry and remove users during a call.
  • Ability to lift and lower hand
  • Video filters, influences, and augmented reality masks.

Google Meet utilizes proprietary protocols for audio, video, and data transcoding. However, Google partnered with the enterprise Pexip to provide interoperability between Google Meet and SIP/H.323-based conferencing gear and software.

Features of Google Duo include:

Google Duo video calls are optimized for low-bandwidth mobile networks through WebRTC and use QUIC over UDP. It is in 720p HD video. Optimization is further achieved by degrading video quality by monitoring network quality. “Knock Knock” offers a live preview of the caller before the recipient chooses, which Google says is to “make calls sense more like an invitation rather than an interruption.” End-to-end encryption is enabled by default. The Duo is based on phone numbers, permitting users to call people from their contact list. The app automatically hits between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. For packet losing concealment, Duo utilizes WaveNetEQ, a generative model founded on DeepMind/Google AI’s WaveRNN.

In March 2017, it was disclosed that Google Duo would let users make audio-only calls. The feature was first launched in Brazil, with a global rollout in April. 

In March 2018, video and voice messages were counted to Duo a year later. In addition, users can leave messages up to 30 seconds long for unavailable contacts.

Approval for eight-person video calls in iOS and Android app versions was added in May 2019. In line with the identical group calling offerings from FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger, participants can join or leave the conversation. In addition, Google Duo advanced the maximum group size to twelve at the end of March 2020 and 32 by May 2022.