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Google’s new version of Hangouts looks a lot like Slack

The new tool features “rooms” and threaded conversations.

Google’s workplace tools, called G Suite, is splitting its Hangouts app into two parts — Hangouts Meet for video chat, and Hangouts Chat — which looks a lot like Slack.

Google announced the news Thursday at the Next conference in San Francisco.

Hangout Chat is part of Google’s newest push to sell its office tools to big businesses as part of its bigger aim to take on Microsoft Office. Verizon recently switched from Office to G Suite.

And the update to Hangout Chat appears to be designed to compete with Slack. The feature will be available to G Suite customers who apply for access. The new app allows users to create virtual rooms (much like on Slack) where they can hold group conversations, and to break conversations off into threads.

Chat also includes a new bot for automatically scheduling meetings: When called up, @meet will compare Google Calendar schedules of chat participants to automatically pick an open time.

Meet lets up to 30 people join a meeting by clicking a shared link or dialing in by phone. Video meetings in the previous Hangouts app would support only up to 10 participants. Meet also allows users to pull files from G Suite to present them in the app. The tool is slated for rollout to G Suite customers in coming weeks.

Meet is also integrated with what Google calls a digital whiteboard, called Jamboard, which allows for easier collaboration by allowing participants using Meet to view Jamboard displays remotely.

Since a lot of medium and small sized companies already use Slack, email, Google docs and some form of video conferencing, the new video and chat features may entice possible G Suite customers to pay up for the service.

But Google says that Chat and Meet are not meant to challenge Slack, according to Prabhakar Raghavan, the head of apps engineering said. Slack, he pointed out, already integrates with Google Drive.

“We don’t intend to take away from that” he said during a panel discussion at the conference. “We don’t intend to take away from our users.”

Google also announced a new feature for Google Drive that helps companies to automatically delete certain documents after a set period of time to help a company streamline processes to adhere to compliance regulations.

Lastly, the company announced it had acquired AppBridge, a startup helps companies migrate content to G Suite.

Correction: Meet allows up to 30 participants in a call. A previous version of the story stated it allowed more than 30 participants.

Demonstration of @meet bot in Hangouts Chat

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