Google has been long been trying to create a social network to compete with Facebook. Everybody knows this, but a year ago, when google began unwinding it’s latest attempt, Google+, it felt like a positive sign for the company’s under-performing social efforts. After sinking years into building a product overstuffed with photos, communication tools, link-sharing, and discussions, Google began to shrink them into more manageable tools.
As a result, Google photos, a feature hardly anyone used has become the favourite photo managing app for over 200 million users. But when it comes to messaging, the hot and burning platform of the smartphone era, Google’s efforts are only multiplying into a plethora of disconnected services. Nikhyl Singhal, the then director of real-time communications for Google, said in 2013, while introducing Hangouts, “I think we’ve done an incredibly poor job of servicing our users here” and blamed this failure in part on the large number of disconnected messaging products it had created. Google’s history with messaging goes back more than a decade. The company has offered all sorts of communication products, from Google Talk to Buzz to Hangouts. Some have been more successful than others, but none have reached the scale of the game’s biggest players.
And thus, Hangouts launched at I/O 2013 as Google’s one true platform for communicating on Gmail, Google+, Android, iOS, and Chrome. But it was either unwilling or unable to draw on its native social network, Gmail, to grow, and it was slow to add features.
Also read : How does Allo’s SMS support work?
There’s power in focus. Facebook Messenger surged to 900 million monthly users after being spunoff into a dedicated app. WhatsApp, which is now owned by Facebook but still operates mostly independently, has more than 1 billion monthly users. Yes, Facebook has a social expertise that Google lacks. But it also told a coherent story from the start. Want to message someone who uses Facebook? Use Facebook Messenger. Everything that’s come since started with that one simple idea.
While Google’s confused efforts continued, messaging has become the hottest platform in tech and companies like Microsoft and Facebook are are racing to build commerce, customer support, and other services into messaging apps. In March, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the shift from apps to bot-powered messaging apps would be as “profound” as the shift from desktop PCs to mobile phones. Facebook messenger already had chat bots and Microsoft introduced them in Skype recently.
Given the environment, it’s little wonder Google would attempt a new, bot-powered take on messaging. Allo is like Facebook Messenger, if its M assistant were globally available and integrated into your other chats. Allo has some neat tricks up its sleeve. The app understands the conversation and suggests appropriate responses that you can simply tap, instead of typing them out. And a Google bot can be summoned in any conversation to help out with contextual information like figuring out that you’re making dinner plans and suggesting suitable restaurants — all without leaving your chat window.
It will be interesting to see how it responds to sexts. There are other doodads scattered around the user interface: a drawing tool, a la Snapchat; some stickers; and a way to change the size of a text message by dragging your finger up and down. It’s all fine, as far as it goes, but the features add up to little more than window dressing on an app that feels just like another messaging app with Google integration. And that’s atop the growing privacy concerns among users, I doubt a concerned user would want to send you anything very personal over Allo, that can be a good or bad thing.
Regardless, even if everybody were to trust Google on that, its hard to see how Allo will break out of the pack. I had similar feelings about Duo, Allo’s sister “Facetime killer” as everyone called it. Unlike Duo, however, Allo has the advantage of Google’s AI. It sounds cool, and will hopefully work amazingly. But here’s the thing. No matter how great these features sound, it all boils down the same question, the question Facebook spent $19 billion buying WhatsApp for: how many of your contacts are actually going to use it?
It’s not like Google is migrating Hangouts/Google Talk users to these new apps. Both Allo and Duo are based on phone numbers like WhatsApp, so Google is essentially starting from scratch. And while using artificial intelligence to make conversations easier and more fun appeals a lot to geeks like me, I sincerely doubt whether it is enough to make regular people install yet another chat app. And Duo’s Knock Knock feature and Google’s Assistant in Allo, if not patent-protected, is a small update away from being incorporated into existing platforms like Skype and FaceTime with Cortana and Siri.
I find this abundance of instant messaging applications maddening. I find myself constantly juggling between these apps trying to remember where I had a particular conversation with someone. And on my phone, they suck up precious battery life and guzzle data.
Google could have easily avoided this by building Allo’s core features like predictive replies right into Google Keyboard, which is available both on Android and iOS. In that case, most of Allo’s key features could have potentially worked right within WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Apple’s iMessage. But, I suppose, it is in Google’s best interest to keep all these conversations on a social platform they own, in which case, why not simply add these features to Hangouts, which is already a bit popular and is pre installed on most Android phones?
It seems to me that Google likes this conflict of letting multiple apps that do the same things coexist — there’s Inbox versus Gmail, YouTube Music versus Google Play Music, Chrome OS versus Android, and Hangouts versus Messenger for sending text messages.
I can already see how this is going to go. Once Allo is out in a couple of months, a few people like me will get excited and jump on the bandwagon. Eventually, we will fall back to our trusty messaging app of choice. At this point, the only way any new messaging app will make any real headway is if either Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp make a fatal mistake. The chances of that happening any time soon? Zilch.
On one hand, Allo is a significant new twist on messaging from one of the world’s most dominant companies; on the other, it mostly feels like a hedge against the success of similar products.
And that’s a shame, because Google really can shake up a space when it wants to. When it created Gmail, it gave users exponentially more free storage than had ever been offered. When it created Google Voice, it offered a powerful second phone number and automatic voicemail transcriptions. And with Photos, it combined unlimited high-resolution storage with wildly powerful search. Now it has emotion inducing video making features as well.
Given the size of the opportunity around a global-scale communication app, Allo was ripe for a similarly attention-getting feature set. Had it integrated with the native SMS app on Android, or allowed you to send messages from the desktop, it could have debuted as a powerful competitor to Apple’s iMessage. These are the same features I had said would hold Duo back and yet, instead we’re getting a relatively standard messaging app augmented by bots, which have taken on a distinct flavor-of-the-month feel since Facebook introduced them to a chorus of shrugs at F8.
Sure Allo might see 10 million downloads within weeks, Duo did, but then after rising to the number one spot on the Playstore Duo fell down to a 127th after the hype died. Reminds me of a certain movie featuring Batman and Superman for the first time for some reason.
I’m not saying Allo will fail, it may, it may not. But if anything, I am one of those rooting for it to succeed, just as I was for Duo, and that movie. But even as a fan, I cannot ignore the shortcomings, “features” that the competitors have. You can use Facebook messenger on a PC, tablet, phone any device you own, so is iMessage in the Apple ecosystem, or Whatsapp or Viber. Even Microsoft is planning to pull an iMessage with skype.
I still have Duo installed, but hardly ever use it. In fact, never.This is 2016! Why would you want to be tied to a communication app that only woks on your phone? Are you still using Duo? Share your opinions in the comments below.