Google has added a new set of chat captioning features to its Hangouts Meet Android application for enterprise in the leadup to the eventual replacement of Hangouts Classic. The features, dubbed live captions, allow users to enable real-time on-screen transcriptions of words spoken in the video chatting app.
The search giant announced the change at its annual Google Cloud Next event and indicates that the feature can already be used across multiple languages. It's also already been available on the web interface, although the update makes using live captions easier.
On Android, users simply need to be in a Hangouts Meet video chat. Then, tapping on the closed captions icon at the top-right-hand side of the UI will turn live captions on.
On the web, the option is now included toward the right-hand side of the bottom bar UI. Regardless of which platform is in use, users in other languages will see the option located in the three-dot menu.
This will still be somewhat limited for a bit longer
The live caption feature isn't available on iOS devices. Google also hasn't indicated a timeline for that to arrive but says it will be "soon." Live captions will only be shown in English. But there's no timeline in place regarding when other languages will be added either.
That already limits the new features' reach by quite a lot. But Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat are still restricted to Enterprise users and those are hardly the only restrictions. Additionally, admins and those overseeing Hangouts Meet meetings aren't going to be able to turn the feature on or off for users. It's something end users will need to activate themselves if they want to see a live transcription of the chat.
None of that means the feature will necessarily make live captions any less useful. It just doesn't seem to be a complete tool yet but that's not surprising since Hangouts Meet and Chat aren't complete yet.
So why Google still adding new features to Hangouts?
Google hasn't confirmed details regarding exactly how its live captions work in Hangouts. Regardless, the move to add chat transcriptions will have implications beyond the enterprise environment.
Another apparently related app the company has poured its efforts into is one called Live Transcribe. Like the new hangouts features, that app is an accessibility tool. Specifically, it takes the audio input and provides users with a transcription of what the AI 'hears'. It also has a lot of the same limitations for the time being.
However, Live Transcribe is just a small part of and one of several apps in a wider accessibility-driven direction Google is taking. So the addition of live captions could be as much about testing as anything else.
The version of Hangouts currently available to everyday users, Hangouts Classic, isn't going to be around forever. Google had already indicated that Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet will serve as a replacement and that will give these features a broader purpose.
The changeup won't happen before June of next year based on its most recent announcement, although there's still no timeline regarding when that will happen. Having the transcription tool already in place will help keep accessibility high. That will help the new app to be more welcoming to a wider audience when it does, allowing those who might not otherwise be able to video chat do so.