Google takes on Zoom and Slack by bundling video calls and chat into Gmail for business users

Key Points
  • Google is revamping its Gmail email app with quick access to group chats, documents and video calls.
  • The Meet video calling service is getting new features, like the ability to control which users can share a screen.
  • CNBC talks to exec Javier Soltero about the changes

In this article

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., gestures while speaking during a discussion on artificial intelligence at the Bruegel European economic think tank in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Pichai urged the U.S. and European Union to coordinate regulatory approaches on artificial intelligence, calling their alignment critical.
Geert Vanden Wijngaert | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google is making its popular Gmail app more of a productivity powerhouse.

The Alphabet subsidiary is incorporating more applications into the business version of Gmail so that users don't need to switch to other apps or browser tabs, It could help keep employees satisfied with the company's business software and not want to adopt alternative services, such as Slack or Zoom

That's an important consideration for building up the cloud business that augments Google and Alphabet's advertising core. The coronavirus hurt Google's ad revenue in the first quarter, but as schools and offices closed, people began to lean more on digital services that could help them continue to communicate, which led to greater adoption of Google services like the Meet calling service.

Now Meet will be accessible inside of Gmail for business customers, along with Google Docs and the the Google Chats service for team communication. In 2018 Google did something similar to Gmail, enhancing it with stripped-down versions of Google Calendar and the Google Keep to-do list app.

People can chat and work on documents in the revamped Gmail.

Within the enhanced Gmail, if people are chatting and they want to collaborate on a document together, they'll get the same real-time collaboration that's been a big benefit of Google Docs. In other words, Gmail won't be "a low-fi or parallel universe" like what one might find from Microsoft, whose Windows productivity apps are more feature-rich than web versions, said Javier Soltero, a Google vice president who previously worked on Office at Microsoft, in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday.

Despite the popularity of Gmail, which has over 1.5 billion active users, Office remains more popular than the G Suite bundle. G Suite has 6 million business customers, and Soltero hopes to change that. He said the company will be trying to clear up the product portfolios for consumers and for business users.

"We won't be defining things in terms of, 'Hey, there's this other consumer thing,'" he said. 

He also said Google has accelerated its work in chat and video calling, two areas that he said the company had needed to take big steps in.

The Google Chats tool that serves as an alternative to Slack is getting shared tasks that will be available inside Gmail. Chats is coming to Gmail on Android and iOS. And people who host video calls on Google Meet, a Zoom rival, will be able to decide which users can share their screens. Additionally, after a host ejects a video call participant in Meet, the person won't be able to knock and get access again unless the host extends a new invitation.

G Suite customers can opt in to the new integrations, and Google employees are thinking about how to bring them to consumers, a spokesperson wrote in an email.

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