Zoom's growth has skyrocketed in recent weeks, and rivals like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have been trying to respond. Millions of people have turned to Zoom to hold virtual gatherings, birthday parties, and yoga classes during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This additional attention has not gone unnoticed by Zoom competitors who are jealous of Zoom's growth: from 10 million daily users in December to more than 300 million in April. While Zoom is now struggling with security and privacy concerns, its rivals are fighting back.
Google today announced that its Meet video conferencing service, formerly known as Hangouts Meet, is now free to anyone who wants to use it. Formerly used for business and educational purposes, Google Meet can now be used by anyone with a Google account and supports meetings of any length (at least until October, if it can be limited to 60 minutes) for up to 100 people. It is a big step that is clearly designed to counteract Zoom's popularity.
Google has also seen its own demand for Meet with more than 100 million daily meeting attendees when people switch to remote work and school. This is nowhere near the 300 million daily users that Zoom claims, but Google Meet is clearly a strong zoom alternative.
The new tiled view of Google Meet.
Google and Microsoft both copied Zoom's gallery view
Google is now customizing how Meet works in response to zoom. The option to display up to 16 people at a time was only introduced last week and is similar to the popular gallery view of Zoom. Meet is even integrated into Gmail. This tighter integration of Meet and Gmail is overseen by Javier Soltero, Google’s GM and VP of G Suite. Soltero was a co-founder of Accompli, the email app that Microsoft purchased and converted to Outlook for iOS. Soltero left Microsoft in late 2018 after previously leading the company's Cortana efforts and moved to Google six months ago.
The rise in Zoom's popularity also surprised Microsoft, although the company recently identified Zoom as an "emerging threat". Skype has failed to fully exploit the once dominated video calling market and has left the door wide open to competition. While Skype usage has increased to 40 million users a day (compared to 23 million previously), that's not enough to counter Zoom's popularity. Microsoft is now focused on quickly improving its team product. Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans report to The Verge that the company has reallocated engineers to quickly introduce team roles that it had planned later this year.
Microsoft has closely monitored how users use teams for remote work and has recently completed the rollout of new features such as custom backgrounds. Virtual backgrounds have become very popular with Zoom and even achieve a high level of admiration. Microsoft announced its own increase in team usage last month, along with some new features to be released later this year. A feature, a virtual raise of your hand to attention, is already being introduced for team users. Similar to Google, Microsoft is also preparing to increase the number of participants that can be displayed simultaneously in the coming weeks. Zoom currently supports 49 people in its simultaneous gallery view, with Microsoft supporting nine and Google 16. Microsoft and Google plan to support even more people in the future.
We know that Microsoft had planned to announce some of these new team options later this year, but the company was forced to prioritize additions such as a new real-time noise reduction feature as more and more people in makeshift home offices with noisy children and pets work in the background. Microsoft also improved meeting management earlier this month – a subtle response to Zoom's problematic meeting administration – and predicted that the coronavirus pandemic will change the way we work and learn forever.
Microsoft is also working to prepare teams for consumers this summer. The Teams for Consumers push is part of a larger Microsoft 365 consumer subscription effort and includes team optimization to make it friendly for groups of friends or families. Microsoft is aimed at teams that plan trips with friends or organize book clubs and social gatherings. New features include the ability for friends to connect in a group chat or video calls, and options for sharing task lists, photos, and other content in one place.
Microsoft is working to make teams more consumer-friendly
However, Google and Microsoft are not the only competitors who want to respond to Zoom. Facebook quickly tried to launch Messenger Rooms last week, a response to Zoom and Houseparty. The New York Times reported that Zoom's popularity attracted the attention of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who reportedly asked the company to respond when "employees stared openly at public data that testifies to Zoom's growing popularity" .
Facebook's Messenger Rooms app.
Some competitors have even turned to Zoom's security issues to fight back. Cisco, which runs the popular Webex web conferencing service, has encouraged employees and partners to ask questions about Zoom's security and privacy issues, according to an internal Verge document. The document encourages Cisco partners not to join the zoom hype and contains several discussion points about how Cisco Webex employees and partners can respond to Zoom's increasing market share. Cisco even asks openly: "What did you (zoom) do with the data that you already sold?" in the document that highlighted Zoom's privacy concerns over the past month.
The real test for Zoom and its competitors will be the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Microsoft is preparing for a future that is completely different, but in which the company expects this increase in video calls to decrease. Nobody could have predicted the rapid increase in Zoom's popularity in response to a global pandemic. The race is now open to find out which company will help to communicate with friends, family and employees in the new normal that will emerge in the coming months.