Duo is Google’s solution to high quality video calling, although its feature quality is pretty lacking. While you can call someone, that’s about all you can do, as ever since launch the service has lacked the ability to call more than one person at the same time. Something which greatly impacts on a video calling service’s appeal in much the same way as an email client that only lets you email one person at a time would.
Over the last few months, however, it has started to become clear that group calling was on the way to Duo although no firm details were provided on when it would actually land. While that’s still the case with no word on when you can group call, a new report has obtained screenshots of the feature in action suggesting that it is currently in a limited testing phase and now a step closer to launch. Though the screenshots do not provide much value on their own, the details on the experience accompanying them do result in a better understanding of the benefits and limitations of group calling through Duo.
Call all the people - well, not all the people
Group calling, as a feature, is only as useful as the upper limit accounts for. If, for example you want to have a group chat with ten people, then you will need the service to be able to accommodate that number of call connections at the same time. For those looking for double-digit calls, then even once the new feature does launch, Duo still won’t be for you as it would seem group chats will be limited to seven callers. That’s not to say that won’t change in the future (or even at launch), but at present seven group members is the understood maximum call occupancy.
That’s not the only limitation either as the current version of the app in testing also seems to indicate that people cannot be added to a group call once the call has been started. Instead, users will seemingly have to assign members to a specific group and then call that group - not the members. Therefore, no additions or removals are possible and this might prove to be annoying for those who call the same people often. For example, those who often call the same three or four people (as a group), will need to create multiple different groups to account for the various configurations possible. While this will be less of an issue for those times when not everyone is available (as it’s presumed an absent member can just reject the call), there does not seem to be any way to not call a person once they’ve been added to a specific group. Again, this may change in the future, but as it stands right now, this seems to be the case.
No set launch date, though Hangouts closure looms large
Although Google has yet to officially confirm when group calling will go live, it stands to reason it will be sooner rather than later. As up until now, Google has always directed those looking for consumer-grade group calls towards Hangouts. However, Google is now in the process of closing Hangouts (in its current form, at least) and while the company is expected to make available a version of the enterprise solutions -- Chat and/or Meet -- Duo is expected to become the de facto video calling solution aimed at consumers going forward. On this basis, it would make sense for Google to ensure Duo is able to pick up as many Hangouts features as possible, as quickly as possible, and prior to the demise of ‘consumer Hangouts.’
More pertinently, with Hangouts expected to close in 2020, this would also suggest the feature will need to go live a fair bit before to iron out any issues and make sure the experience is as reliable and as useful as possible. This will be important as video chat options are fairly robust on Android, and although the platform lacks user adoption of a true universal solution, Google will not want to run the risk of alienating any more users than it has to during the Hangouts transition.
Extra tweaking might make the experience even better
The same reports also picks up on a new low-light mode that’s in use in the same app version now in testing. This feature is designed to ensure that when lighting is not as optimal as it could be, the user receives a notification advising of the option to enter a low-light mode to improve the visibility for the other people on the call. There’s not specifically anything that suggests this is designed to launch alongside group calling, but it would stand to reason this will be usable with group calling as well as with person-to-person calls. Which if correct, means group calling may actually arrive with a few additional bells and whistles too. Although it remains to be seen if the addition of extra features will make up for the delay in adding group support, or for that matter, the need for Hangouts users to migrate to Duo.