Google's Zoom rival, called Meet, is now free to consumers

Meet was previously only for paying customers of G Suite, Google's line of enterprise apps.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Google's video conferencing app, called Meet.


Google on Wednesday said it's making its teleconferencing service, called Google Meet, free to consumers. The move takes aim at Zoom , the rival video chat service that's become a household name during the stay-at-home era spurred by the novel coronavirus.

Previously, Meet was only available to paying customers of G Suite, Google's line of enterprise apps that includes Gmail, Drive and Docs. Until now, anyone could join a meeting by clicking on a link, but creating a meeting required a G Suite membership. 

The free version of the product requires a Google account, and video calls have a 60-minute cap. But Google said it won't enforce that rule until after Sept. 30. The free version will also allow up to 100 participants and include features such as screen sharing and real-time captions. 

The move underscores how crucial video chatting has become for a world stuck in physical isolation. Around the globe, schools, libraries, bars and other businesses deemed nonessential in a time of contagion crisis have closed their doors. 

As millions of people shelter in place, Google says usage of Meet has surged. On Tuesday, CEO Sundar Pichai said the service is adding 3 million new users a day during the pandemic, up from 2 million new users a day earlier this month. Pichai said the service has 100 million meeting participants a day. 

Still, the breakout product of the coronavirus lockdown has undoubtedly been Zoom. The service has ballooned from 10 million daily users in December to 300 million daily users now. But the service has been plagued by data-sharing issues, as well as "Zoombombing," in which uninvited participants invade a video session. The drop-ins are sometimes coordinated attacks, filled with hate speech and harassment.

Google isn't the only tech giant chasing Zoom's runaway success. Last week, Facebook announced Messenger Rooms, a new feature that lets users video-chat with multiple people through Messenger, even if they don't have a Facebook account. And Microsoft is pushing Teams, its own video-chat app.

Watch this: Vaccines, antibody tests, treatments: The science of ending the pandemic

Despite the high-profile security problems, Zoom is in an enviable position when it comes to name recognition. According to The New York Times, Google business chief Philipp Schindler was on a video call with thousands of employees last month when someone on the call asked about Zoom's success. As Schindler replied, his young son reportedly barged into the room and asked if Schindler was on a Zoom call with his workers. 

In an interview, Smita Hashim, director of product management for Google Meet, declined to comment on the Schindler incident. She also declined to address the competition with Zoom, instead pivoting to Google Meet's security benefits. 

"It was designed from the onset to be secure," Hashim said. "We haven't had to really make changes to the product to become more secure."

As Google builds out Meet for consumers -- not just business customers -- the company might consider moving beyond productivity features. Other video chat apps, for example, have been successful with entertainment features like filters and photo tools. When asked about eventually building consumer features, Hashim said the company will listen to customer feedback, but has nothing to announce.