Allo is a quality app, but Google isn't giving it a real chance

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Allo is a quality app, but Google isn't giving it a real chance
To say that Google has had a confused and confusing strategy with its communication apps is something of an understatement. For a while, it looked as though Hangouts would be the focus of Google’s efforts — it had messaging, voice chat, group video chat, and it was available across mobile and desktop platforms. Then Google decided to blow it up.

Now, Google has pushed Hangouts towards enterprise users and split it into Meet and Chat. The idea was for Hangouts Meet to be the group video app and Chat to be the text messaging app, although in practice Chat still doesn’t exist as a standalone app, Meet has chat functionality, and Hangouts still exists in its traditional form for consumer use.

The easiest portion of Google’s communication app mess was Google Messenger (later renamed Android Messages, because none of this story is allowed to be simple) as its single-purpose SMS app. Impressively, despite intentions to push carriers to embrace the open Rich Communications Services (RCS) standards, Messages has remained the simple, focused app it was released to be.

However, just to make sure things were still a bit confusing, Google has the last two pieces of its communications app strategy — and likely the most important two pieces — Allo and Duo. Allo is Google’s answer to services like iMessage and WhatsApp, while Duo is Google’s one-to-one video chat app (although there have been rumors of group video chat coming, which would make the name “Duo” somewhat confusing.)

Strictly as they are, Allo and Duo are great apps and work extremely well at their given purposes. Of course, what Google kind of forgot was that the quality of communications apps doesn’t much matter if people don’t use the apps.

Quality apps with few users

Google made a big initial push with marketing for Allo and Duo, but it doesn’t seem like the services have made much of a dent in the market dominated by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage. And, I’d suggest the problem is that Google has taken the Googley path instead of learning a lesson from those competitors.

WhatsApp grew its user base organically as the best cross-platform messaging service to connect users internationally (avoiding SMS fees), but also importantly, it capitalized on the void left by the death of BlackBerry Messenger. Google didn’t have that benefit because the messaging space was already saturated. Rather, Google should have learned a lesson from Facebook and iMessage — take advantage of the platform.

Allo is a quality app, but Google isn't giving it a real chance

Facebook Messenger grew because Facebook itself was huge and it was simply easy for the users already in that world to stick with the in-house messaging app. Apple pulled a similar trick by packaging iMessage in its stock SMS app and adding features only available to users communicating between iOS devices (no green bubbles allowed!)

By contrast, Google made two great apps and released them with the hope that people would not only start using those apps, but convince friends and family to do the same. It didn’t help that Allo launched without a web version and Duo was quickly made less useful after WhatsApp added video and audio calling, but Google’s biggest mistake was in thinking people would switch on their own.

A more forceful approach

There are some hints that Google has learned that lesson somewhat, and may be more aggressive in pushing users towards its apps. Duo has been integrated into the Google Dialer so video calls can be started from phone calls, as well as some integration with Android Messages to initiate calls from there as well. And, some devices can receive Duo calls even if the app isn’t installed (of course, why anyone would initiate a Duo call to someone that doesn’t have the app installed is a question with strange answers.)

Given these integrations with Duo and the fact that Google has already taken a page from Apple in having separate chat and video apps, it feels right to wonder why Google’s hasn't taken the iMessage route with Allo and whether deeper integration of Google's chat app might be coming. Allo is a great app with few users, so it makes sense that Google should combine Android Messages with Allo to create a singular Google messaging app. It could work the exact same way as iMessage — SMS by default if one user doesn’t have Allo, and full Allo features when everyone in the chat have the app — and having Allo be a standard part of Google’s default Messages app (or visa versa) would mean more people have it by default.

Admittedly, this is a harder thing to pull off for Google because various manufacturers have their own messaging apps, so the main thing standing in the way of making this move would be relationships with manufacturers. Or, relationships with one manufacturer in particular: Samsung.

Allo is a quality app, but Google isn't giving it a real chance

A new opportunity

More and more Android manufacturers are moving towards a lighter skin and fewer proprietary apps (even Samsung to an extent), so now might be a good time for Google to turn on SMS functionality in Allo (which already exists in limited forms to aid with inviting other users to the service) and kill off Android Messages. The path for Google was slightly easier with Duo, because most Android OEMs don't have proprietary video chat apps; trying to take over the default SMS app with something that doubles as a competitor to WhatsApp or iMessage is a different thing altogether, especially if you factor in carrier bloat (I'm sure Verizon wouldn't be too happy with an SMS/Allo hybrid on devices that have Verizon Messages+, even if no one ever uses Verizon's app.)

It's possible Google might try out the SMS/Allo combo app on Pixel phones first before going wider, but as yet we haven't seen any indication Google is planning such a mashup, despite how much sense it makes both from the perspective of gaining more Allo users and in simplifying Google's communication app offerings. An iMessage style SMS/Allo app would leave Google with a much simpler story with its communications apps: Allo is for text messaging, Duo is for video and audio calls, and Hangouts is for business (although the confusion with Hangouts is still too much to deal with in this thought experiment.)

It sounds simple, but when it comes to Google’s communications apps, it’s never as easy as it sounds.

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15 Comments

1. NickHill

Posts: 388; Member since: May 07, 2016

If they merge Allo and Android Messages..

7. bucknassty

Posts: 1263; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

Cut all OEM messaging apps as well as service providers, merge Allo and android messages (do not call it Allo, dumbass name) RCS for stock messaging and allo features for end users who both have android. Simple and easy less mess and better focus... only one can dream

2. applesnapple93

Posts: 278; Member since: Jan 06, 2016

They wont make Allo the standard SMS application or integrate SMS fully into it because of their investment into RCS and Jibe. By having carriers implement RCS messaging using Google services on their end, they are effectively replacing standard SMS communication and handling all communication through their cloud. Google will control the worlds communication at its highest level, eventually forcing Apple and Samsung to integrate Google based RCS as SMS is eventually phased out. At that point Google doesn't have to entice you with "unlimited picture storage for pixel phones" or anything else to use their cloud and surrender your information, you're doing it by using your cell phone to send a message in its most natural way. Look at the bigger picture, its all about having control. RCS and Jibe is Googles best chance at total control. Allo will never get SMS integration. If I had to guess anything, Allo is a test playground for what to bring/can be done with RCS.

3. Stangtx07

Posts: 23; Member since: Sep 18, 2017

Not going to let myself fall for more of Google's crap. Just use Skype.

6. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 899; Member since: May 07, 2014

people still use skype?

9. luis.aag90

Posts: 270; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

Of course Skype is still being used. Even more, Skype for Business is one of the most popular chat systems in the Enterprise sector

14. RebelwithoutaClue

Posts: 5473; Member since: Apr 05, 2013

Mainly because of Microsoft's foot in the door with large cooperations. And it works well integrated into Office so for businesses it's a pretty easy choice. But is it good? No, I wouldn't call it good, just okay. Also, Skype and Skype for Business are two completely different products

4. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 988; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

Google needs to find which App works, push that and ween off the others. Hangouts is a great app that does both video and messages. With Allo/Duo they are just following in Apples footsteps with iMessage/Facetime.

8. bucknassty

Posts: 1263; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

but Allo fails at the flexibility of imessage... if the other user doesn't have imessage it falls to SMS... simple, no need to switch apps... all google has to do is for cheap ass carriers to upgrade to RCS and go that route or possibly stay SMS all within the same app... i dont want to have 3 different messaging apps for ALLO, RCS, and SMS... whack

5. Cat97

Posts: 1677; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

They should have ONE app for everything communication-related. Copy Apple again if you want to succeed )

10. mobiledigger

Posts: 110; Member since: Sep 24, 2015

Allo is a well-made app. If they add sms support i would deffinetly prioritize it

11. Skizzo

Posts: 401; Member since: Jul 14, 2013

Just merge Allo and Duo into one app, add SMS support, and watch it blow up. It's that simple. One solution for all.

12. Blazers

Posts: 699; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

Since Samsung has the bulk of android users, google needs to work with them on this....get them to agree on a unified messagin/dialer app. The others will fall in line.

15. Bobgatto

Posts: 3; Member since: Mar 02, 2016

Skizzo, I would go one step further (if possible) and add the functionality of Allo, Duo and SMS all into a modified phone app. In that way one app could rule them all - calls (talk or video), SMS GIF's, sending video, etc. Why have 3 or more apps to "communicate". Just have one app that can do it all.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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