Incumbents Have Neglected Their Video Chat apps

Microsoft, Google and WhatsApp have all neglected their chat apps.

Skype made confusing UX changes. A few years back, I couldn’t even navigate the app or figure out how to call, at which point I abandoned Skype.

As for Google, it has too many messaging apps — Hangouts, Meet, Duo and more — and they keep changing every year. I pay for GSuite, and premium Meet features like call recording were not available to me; they were only for Enterprise users. This made no sense — call recordings are stored in Drive, which is chargeable, so I’m not asking them to give me something free that costs them money. If, after paying them twice, they ask me to pay a third time, I’ll instead give my money to someone else who doesn’t try to take advantage of me this way. And then, GSuite’s value goes down for me, and along with it, my willingness to pay for it. Trying to upsell out of greed may result in churn. It also defeats the point of a suite, where you pay once for all services. If I’m not getting everything, and have to pay for each thing separately, then I’ll start to investigate what’s the best product for each purpose, and buy them individually, rather than buying GSuite.

As for WhatsApp, the desktop app never had voice or video calls, for no reason.

As for Telegram, their desktop app again didn’t support video calls.

Slack didn’t even let me make video or video calls, since I’m on a free account. But why would I pay them to do what umpteen other apps do free? In 1990, video conference was cutting edge, but in 2020, it’s expected, and charging for an undifferentiated feature makes no sense. Slack has now made calls free, but only 1:1, not group calls. It’s too little, too late.

FaceTime was never reliable. I’d call someone and it would ring, but not for them. This was many years back, at which point I gave up. It also had a problem where I’d call someone on their number, and it wouldn’t work because they’d enabled FaceTime on their email ID, not their number.

All these companies rested on their laurels, rather than continuously innovating.

These second-tier services all deserve to be disrupted by Zoom, which focused on one problem and solved it well, rather than video chat being a secondary feature to ignore. This is the market working as it should.

What Should Legacy Video Chat Apps Do?

First, be on all platforms, like WhatsApp on iPad.

Second, have video chat on all platforms, like the desktop.

Third, video chat apps should be free to match Zoom’s free tier. Google made Meet free only till Sep 30, but that’s not enough. On Oct 1, users will still be unwilling to pay for what others offer free. In fact, by not making Meet free forever, Google is turning away some users. You can’t afford to do that when you’re not the leader in a market.

Fourth, users who’re already paying for GSuite should get all Meet features free. If Google tries to nickel-and-dime me, I’ll take my business elsewhere.

Fifth, companies that are in markets adjacent to video chat should be on their toes, since the borders between these markets are fuzzy, and neighbors can easily enter their territory. Adjacent markets include messaging (like Slack), consumer video chat (like FaceTime) or consumer messaging (like WhatsApp). All these apps should always be thinking of how to improve lest they be disrupted.