Google today announced more workspace features. This is part of the frequency of changes to the company’s office and communications software suite over the past year or so. However, today’s announcement is a bit of a milestone. There are still few small and upcoming updates, but the big change is that Gmail has been redesigned to reveal its essence in the eyes of Google, the central hub of all Google communications apps.
First, Google is adding the ability to use Google Meet to call another Google user within the Gmail mobile app instead of within the Meet app. Once this feature is exposed and turned on, the Gmail app can be called like any other VOIP app (in addition to being able to join Google Meet meetings). According to Google, at some point in the future, the standalone Meet app will not only be able to create group meetings, but will also have the same functionality as making a call.
That Gmail was the first place Google thought about putting its calling capabilities in, revealing how important Gmail became to the bigger changes happening within Google Workspace. Google isn’t hesitant to take advantage of Gmail’s popularity to drive adoption of other services.
Gmail now adopts Outlook by Google
Today, Gmail is essentially Google’s Outlook equivalent. A central hub for multiple services. Outlook is a Microsoft hub for email, calendars, and contacts. Gmail is Google’s hub for email, one-on-one chat, group chat, video conferencing, and now making phone calls. The email part of Gmail is one tab of four groups next to chat, space, and meetings.
Spaces is Google’s rebranding of Rooms, a Slack-like product that offers group chat. With the name change, Google has made it easier to find spaces in the enterprise by making spaces searchable (optionally), and finally added full support for threaded messages. Like other group chat apps, threads appear in the additional columns on the right. (For those who keep counting, it means that Spaces users can display up to 5 columns of different information on the screen at one time.)
According to Google, users will still be able to hide unused tabs, and the redesign will be the first to be rolled out to enterprise users today. After that, it will be displayed in Gmail for general consumers.
For minor updates, you can now see your attendance in meeting invitations that show you where you are in Google Calendar. Google will finally launch the so-called companion mode feature in November this year. It is a system to log in to the conference on a laptop together with the AV system in the main room. It is muted by default, so there is no embarrassing audio feedback loop.
Finally, Google is expanding the Series 1 line of Google Meet compatible hardware. Unlike Made by Google hardware such as the Pixel, Series One devices are third-party products that fit Google’s design aesthetics and appear to work primarily with Google software.
A more interesting device for me is the Series One Desk 27. Its touchscreen display is primarily designed to act as a Google Meet video conferencing station, but it also has a simple USB-C port that acts as an external monitor for your laptop. Once plugged in, you can use the soundbar and 5-megapixel camera in your favorite video conferencing app. Google says it has an edge TPU (custom Google processor) for listening to Hai Google commands, but otherwise it uses a standard Intel chip for its main functionality.
The device is arguably more for corporate space than consumer homes and has a comparable price: $ 1,999.
There is also a Series One Panel 65. This is a TV that receives stylus input and acts like Google’s own Jamboard. According to Google, both run on Chrome OS and are all-in-one conferencing devices, but there are no further specifications. The device is made by Avocor, which makes a bunch of other custom conferencing devices. It will be released in 2022. The price is not yet available.
Google has partnered with Cisco to allow hardware designed for Google Meet to dial in to Webex meetings and hardware designed for Webex to dial in to Google Meet. There’s nothing to announce when it comes to zooming.
More work has been put into Google Workspace over the past year than it seems to have been put into the previous few years, most of it focused on communication. This is great news for businesses and consumers who use all of the different Workspaces apps. But for those of us who want to keep Gmail just an email app, it’s going to be harder and harder to keep Gmail that way.
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