In October of last year, Google hired Javier Soltero to be the VP and GM of G Suite, its set of office apps and — importantly for today’s news — Google Meet and Google Chat. Now, the company is putting him in charge of yet another set of products: Messages, Duo, and the phone app on Android.
The move puts all of Google’s major communication products under one umbrella: Soltero’s team. Soltero tells me that there are no immediate plans to change or integrate any of Google’s apps, so don’t get your hopes up for that (yet). “We believe people make choices around the products that they use for specific purposes,” Soltero says.
Still, Google’s communications apps are in dire need of a more coherent and opinionated production development, and Soltero could very well be the right person to provide that direction. Prior to joining Google, he had a long career that included creating the much-loved Acompli email app, which Microsoft acquired and essentially turned into the main Outlook app less than two months after signing the deal.
Soltero has also moved rapidly (at least by the standards of Google’s communication apps) to clean up the Hangouts branding mess, converting Hangouts Video to Google Meet and Hangouts Chat to Google Chat — at least on the enterprise side. Google Meet also became free for everybody far ahead of the original schedule because of the pandemic.
Cleaning up the consumer side of all that is more complicated, but Soltero says, “The plan continues to be to modernize [Hangouts] towards Google Meet and Google Chat.”
The way Soltero characterizes his job is to “drive more innovation and more clarity around how these products can fulfill their specific missions.” This suggests he doesn’t intend to integrate all of Google’s chat apps in the way that Facebook is planning to do with Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. In fact, he says that “these products are playing an important role in people’s lives” and “it would be irresponsible” to make too-rapid chances to these products as people depend on them.
Soltero will remain on the cloud team but will join Hiroshi Lockheimer’s leadership team. Lockheimer himself has taken over more and more of Google’s platform products, overseeing both Android and Chrome OS, for example.
For his part, Lockheimer believes that there are opportunities to better integrate Google’s apps into its platforms — Chrome OS could stand to work better with G Suite apps, for example. Android has already very nearly made Google Duo the default video chat app for most phones. Lockheimer says he intends to keep these platforms open and not locked into Google’s own apps, however.
He also agrees that it doesn’t make sense to force integration or interoperability too quickly. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing that there are multiple communications applications if they’re for a different purpose,” Lockheimer says. “Part of what might be confusing, what we’ve done to confuse everyone, is our history around some of our communications products that have gone from one place or another place. But we’re looking forward now, in a way that has a much more coherent vision.”
Here’s Google’s full statement on the leadership change:
We are bringing all of Google’s collective communication products together under one leader and unified team that will be led by Javier Soltero, VP and GM of G Suite. Javier will remain in Cloud, but will also join the leadership team under Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of Platforms and Ecosystems. Outside of this update, there are no other changes to the personnel and Hiroshi will continue to play a significant role in our ongoing partnership efforts.
Soltero has reminded me a few times that he’s relatively new at Google. That means he is inheriting a lot of that historical baggage — but at least he can put a fresh pair of eyes on it. Other than cracking jokes, it sort of doesn’t matter anymore that Google Plus begat Hangouts begat Allo begat RCS chat in Android Messages. What matters now is that Google needs to extricate itself from that history and create good communication apps that make sense together.
“The issue that people tend to have is their ability to see across [these apps] and see themselves as a Duo user and a Meet user and a Gmail user and so forth,” Soltero says. “[Users are telling me] ‘I’m everywhere, I fit into all of those buckets, can you just kind of make my life easier and better?’ And the answer is yes, that is the purpose of bringing these things together.”