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Google updates Meet to match, surpass competitors

Google's upcoming Meet updates will include letting multiple workers communicate over video while collaborating on a document, spreadsheet or slide presentation.

Google plans to roll out a slate of Meet video conferencing updates to match and surpass features in Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Zoom throughout the year.

The search giant unveiled the improvements this week, targeting the features at maximizing employee productivity at home and in the office. Many companies have adopted hybrid work as a benefit to retain or attract workers in a tight labor market.

Google will roll out a real-time collaboration feature its competitors lack in the coming weeks. The capability lets workers hold meetings directly in the word processing, spreadsheet and slideshow applications in Workspace, the company's productivity and collaboration suite. Meet attendees can discuss a document through a side panel within the Docs, Sheets or Slides tab.

"The ability to see, hear and connect with your collaborators is key for building connections," Google Meet product director Dave Citron said during an online news conference. "It shouldn't be forfeited when you're working across tabs or locations."

Teams, Zoom and Webex don't have a native way to work together on documents during video calls. By integrating Meet with Docs, Sheets and Slides, Google shows the advantage of its business application bundle, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at research firm Metrigy.

Several upcoming Meet features catch up to what the competition already offers. The capabilities include:

  • A miniature video panel that floats above other applications. The feature lets employees navigate between windows while keeping in sight up to four meeting attendees.
  • Emojis for nonverbal communication during meetings. Google plans to provide the feature this month.
  • A companion mode to combat hybrid meeting inequities. Companion mode lets conference room employees participate in meeting chats, vote in polls and view captions on their laptops. Google will let people use their laptop cameras to record facial expressions and body language for remote colleagues in the coming months.
  • The ability to respond to specific comments in a message thread within the Workspace chatroom, called Spaces.

Google plans to leverage YouTube to help companies broaden their audience for panel discussions, webinars or speeches. A Meet-YouTube integration will let people access Meet content through YouTube's familiar user interface.

Later this year, Google will let companies conduct Q&As and polling on up to 100,00 view-only participants in a Meet event. The feature is available today for only active attendees, which has a limit of 500.

Unlike Cisco and Zoom, Google doesn't charge extra for its large group meeting feature. Microsoft includes it in Teams with a 365 subscription but accommodates only a maximum of 20,000 attendees.

Google has made steady improvements to Workspace as it battles Microsoft in the productivity suite market. Workspace's share has grown between 1% and 2% a year for several years, according to research firm Gartner. But Microsoft still accounts for 89% of the market.

"If you're just looking at [Workspace's] growth, it looks great," Gartner analyst Craig Roth said. "Growing in a very large market is wonderful."

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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