How Zoom Beat the Tech Giants
Google and Microsoft’s early decisions about video chat put them at a strategic disadvantage in the long run
On Wednesday, Google made its premium videoconferencing app, Google Meet, free for everyone. At the start of April, Microsoft’s Skype added a feature that allowed users to jump into a call by clicking one link. Both companies seem to be playing catch up to the suddenly popular Zoom, even though they’re dominant tech megacorporations that have been offering competing products for the better part of a decade.
For most of the early 2010s, Skype and Hangouts (which eventually became Meet) set the standard for video chat apps. So, how did Zoom come out ahead?
Microsoft and Google took a different approach to video chat than Zoom from the very beginning. Zoom launched as a single-feature app in 2011 that was focused mainly on video chat. The tech giants, meanwhile, launched group video chat as a feature attached to other services like Skype’s voice calling platform or Google’s doomed social network, Google+. In order to chat on Hangouts, users had to log onto Google+. To get in on a 10-way group video chat, users had to load up the bulky Skype desktop app. At the time it was a small burden, but it put both companies at a strategic disadvantage in the long run.
While the video chat features themselves worked well, the services to which they were attached struggled. Skype was unable to find footing as a general-purpose messaging platform as smartphones enabled new apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage to join the market. These apps offered improvements over SMS-based texting, attracting millions of users to their respective platforms.
Then, in 2013, Facebook announced that it would offer free voice calling to all of its iOS users in the United States. The move was a quiet but devastating blow to Skype. While the latter was widely seen, at the time, as one of the better cross-platform voice and video chat apps, Facebook had snuck Skype’s core product into a messaging platform with hundreds of millions of users that didn’t always need to communicate via voice. It was no longer enough to offer one type of communication feature. A successful platform in those days, and at the scale Google…