Designing an effective productivity suite is increasingly about connections: between services, between data sources, between employees, and between apps. At Google Next on Wednesday, Google debuted a number of upgrades to its G Suite of business apps, which have competed against Microsoft Office and its ecosystem for years.
According to Google, more than 5 million businesses have signed up for G Suite. (Microsoft has said previously that it has more than 60 million commercial customers for Office 365.) But like Microsoft’s relationship with Slack, Microsoft isn’t necessarily adverse to partnering with potential adversaries. And that means if you’re using Slack, or G Suite, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to directly interact with a Word document.
If you’re a Google G Suite user, here are five ways that G Suite will change for you:
1.) Office editing in Docs, Sheets, and Slides
While Office and G Suite workers can already interact with common documents, it’s always been a bit of a ballet between what files can be opened by which suite, and which require conversion. What Google said Wednesday is that you’ll be able to work on Office files straight from within G Suite without any file conversion. According to Google, this will allow you to take advantage of Google’s AI-powered grammar suggestions. (Note that Office, of course, offers its own spelling and grammar suggestions, too.)
2.) Hangouts adds transcriptions, streaming, and Gmail integration
There are two versions of Hangouts for businesses: Hangouts Meet (the videoconferencing portion) and Hangouts Chat (which focuses on chat). It’s natural that the text-based Chat option would be more closely integrated into other text-based Google apps, and it’s happening—you’ll start to see Hangouts Chat more closely tied into Gmail, with chats taking place in the same window that you’ll exchange email with your coworkers.
Likewise, Google is starting to respond to Microsoft, whose Skype videoconferencing apps are becoming more defined by their ability to transcribe and translate content than just allowing more than one employee to talk to one another. Hangouts Meet now has automatic live captioning, though just in English. In addition, Meet now has the ability to livestream to up to 100,000 viewers—though YouTube has tended to handle this quite well already.
3.) Voice is now part of G Suite
Continuing the trend of connecting employees, Google announced (finally!) that Google Voice is now part of G Suite, in “select markets.” Voice gives employees, and personal users, their own phone number. Google has also used the service to show off its AI capabilities in terms of transcription and blocking voice calls, and it’s now finally available to business users.
4.) Google Assistant breaks into G Suite
Speaking of AI, it’s been a long time coming for the Google Assistant to break out of the smartphone and into other areas within Google’s ecosystem. (Cortana has been integrated into Edge as well as other Office apps, by contrast.) Unfortunately, Google Assistant isn’t penetrating any further than the Google Calendar app, and in beta, to boot. But at least you’ll be able to ask Google when your next meeting is. It’s a start.
5.) Add-ons are now part of GSuite, too
We have to go all the way back to 2005 to find the first instance of Office Add-ins, which bolts on additional functionality to Microsoft Office apps like Word or PowerPoint. Now, add-ins are coming to the right-hand rail of Google’s G Suite apps, too. Those apps will include Copper, Workfront, Box, and others. Unfortunately, they’ll debut in beta, which you’ll have to sign up for and will debut in the coming months.
Google has listed several new additions as part of its blog post announcing the new changes. G Suite has remained in a somewhat bare-bones state for some time now—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for fans of simple efficiency. Still, several of these changes now seem obvious in retrospect, and long overdue.