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Trying to make sense of Google's messaging mess

Matt Kapko | Aug. 26, 2016
Google's mélange of messaging apps is about to get even more chaotic. The company plans to shift its consumer-centric Hangouts app towards the enterprise, just as it starts from scratch with two new apps for consumers: Allo and Duo.

Hangouts just one component of Google's enterprise integration 

Google's seemingly unfocused approach to messaging is also related to the company's failure to create or acquire a wildly popular app. None of its messaging apps have ever reached the scale of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Line or others. "The best case scenario for Google is that they hit it big with one of their messaging and communication platforms, and then can start from a base of success before consolidating," says Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "First they have to find a hit."

Google seems to be chasing Apple in consumer video and messaging, Microsoft for bots, Cisco, Microsoft and Vidyo in video collaboration, and Amazon in home consumer electronics, according to Moorhead. "If you're trying to hit so much real estate, it forces this approach, especially when you're late to the party," he says.

With Hangouts, Google has been trying to cover personal and work communications in much the same way. Hangouts skews toward consumer use, but Google also developed a separate ecosystem with specialized hardware for business communications. Some companies have already replaced phones and videoconferencing equipment with Chromeboxes and Hangouts-based solutions for meeting rooms, according to Dawson. It may be a tall order for Google to convince enterprises to rip out existing solutions from other videoconferencing vendors, but the company could point to a number of successful deployments, including its own, to counter associated concerns, he says.

However, Google still has work to do before Hangouts is truly enterprise ready, according to Castanon-Martinez. The company needs to add administrative capabilities for provisioning, onboarding, analytics and security, for example, to make Hangouts more enterprise compliant, but Google should be able to do all of that, he says. 

"Google is one of the few companies that can go head-to-head with Microsoft" in the enterprise, Castanon-Martinez says. "Google has its Google Apps suite and could transition Hangouts into an enterprise communications solution similar to Skype," he says. "All of this points to a larger enterprise strategy that encompasses not just communications apps but also productivity and business communications."

Google's enterprise strategy is beginning to align as it connects different pieces of the business matrix, including Hangouts, Google Apps and Android, with third-party platforms such as Dialpad's cloud phone system, according to Castanon-Martinez. Hangouts on its own may not seem like a very interesting standalone enterprise-communications app, he says, but deeper integration with Google Apps and Android will create a combination that could become a strong competitor to Microsoft, Cisco and other enterprise vendors.


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