Google Chat, the messaging service previously only available to customers who pay for Google Workspace (the recent rebranding of G Suite), will become a free service that’s available inside of Gmail and in a standalone app, and you’ll be able to bring over your Hangouts data to Chat sometime in the first half of next year. Whether you view this transition as optional will depend on which Hangouts features you use, because some of them are also going away.
Google says it will “help automatically migrate” your Hangouts conversations, contacts, and chat history to Chat, according to a blog post. That language seems to suggest that your data won’t migrate by default, and it’s unclear what steps will be required for that migration, but Google says it will share guidance at some point.
As for why you’d want to upgrade from Hangouts to Chat, there are both carrots and sticks. On the plus side, Google says Chat not only offers features like direct and group conversations you might be familiar with from Hangouts, but it can also let you more easily plan and collaborate with others.
As far as pushing you away from Hangouts, Google also announced that it is planning to remove some specific Hangouts features. If you’re a Google Fi user, Google will stop letting you manage texts and phone calls from Hangouts at some point early next year. Instead, though, you’ll be able to migrate existing Hangouts conversations to Google’s Messages app and manage Fi texts and calls in the Messages app for the web starting “in the next few weeks.”
Google also plans to remove Google Voice support from Hangouts early next year, meaning you won’t be able to take calls from Voice in Hangouts. You’ll have to use the dedicated Voice app for Google Voice texts and calls instead. In addition, Google will no longer let you call phone numbers from Hangouts starting early next year, and group video calls in Hangouts will use Meet starting in November.
This transition away from Hangouts isn’t entirely unexpected — Google said in December 2018 that it planned to migrate Hangouts users to Chat and Meet at some point. It’s unclear if or when Google plans to completely shut down Hangouts, but Google said at the time that “we are fully committed to supporting classic Hangouts users until everyone is successfully migrated to Chat and Meet.” The company didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.