Allo’s Shortcomings Seriously Limit Adoption and Potential in a Competitive Market
Deducing release dates scribbled on paper, googling when Summer ends down to the minute, watching Play Store listings looking for any movement… If you have been around the forums or Reddit you probably took part in one of those activities or saw someone who did.
Expectations were high, Google finally seemed to have a pulse on what may work for a chat client. Strong SMS support? Google has some really strong acquisitions in RCS, the next evolution of SMS. Easy syncing between devices and device types? Google is a leader in making your content easily available on almost any platform you happen to be on. Google has made such strong strides in terms of their software and targeting the general consumer market, it was not a far stretch to hope that some of this would have extended into this totally new chat client. Instead Allo, as it ships today, is a mere echo of what so many of us hoped it would be and more than that, what it needed to be…
The world is full of chat clients, many of which are hundreds of millions of users deep. The barrier of entry is high, so a client that wants to succeed cannot do so off a single parlor trick, and unfortunately that’s exactly what Allo did. So first let’s get the good out of the way. Allo is available today on iOS and Android. Allo is also the first look at Google Assistant, which is both promising and a little redundant.
Oh, were you expecting another especially good point? So were many others. But unfortunately the Google Assistant is the ONLY solid, exclusive element of Allo as it stands today, and so many negative elements all but totally cloud out that benefit. So let’s start with the beginning.
Unlike many other chat clients Allo is only available for iOS and Android. There is no web client and there are no tablet applications either. This puts Allo into a particularly tricky situation. Allo has all of the drawbacks of a single device SMS client AND the drawbacks of an IM client that does not handle SMS.
Google even went a few steps further by including an almost totally useless SMS feature that allows you to send SMS from it, however, it isn’t an SMS client… Confused? Your recipients will be too since it sends from a random unknown 5-digit number.
Edit – It appears that a server side update to Google Play Services on Android phones will display the actual sender. It seems this is still hit and miss though as we were not able to replicate the result. For any that don’t have this update or are an iOS user, still see the 5-digit code. – Source
But it still gets worse.
With many IM clients you are able to use it on multiple devices with syncing. It’s one of the primary benefits of IM compared to SMS, unless you are called iMessage and own all Apple devices. However, Google – a leader in allowing your content to be available everywhere – failed to add any sort of multiple device support. “Ok, well that can be worked around I’ll just login and logout of other devices”.. Except Google managed to break that too. Instances of Allo are new and separate, even with the same phone number. It does not use your number or Google account to sync anything, even the basics like your name and profile picture and let’s not get started in that ALL YOUR CONVERSATIONS ARE LOST when you switch devices.
and here is the annoying part about that…
The Google Assistant – the only positive element of the whole application – was said to use your conversations transiently and not stored to help improve its service when it was announced. Except now, it stores all conversations indefinitely (a move which they will almost certainly backpedal on due to backlash). So ignoring the privacy element of this, seriously every tech site has an article about it today, let’s go back to what I stated above about syncing. Did you make the connection yet? Google stores your conversations indefinitely, HOWEVER, you as the user are not able to have that data sync between devices or instances…. Let that sink in.
I am not going to elaborate much more on all of the reasons that make me believe you should not consider Allo for anything more than to play with Assistant. But here are a few tidbits:
- Allo appears to be draining battery worse than Hangouts is with multiple people on our XDA chat noticing Media Server drain, and it had 2hrs of background usage on my iPhone 7 after having it installed for… 3 hours. The other hour was actual usage, meaning it almost never slept.
- Allo cannot be set as an SMS client because it does not handle SMS, except when it does with SMS Integration which masks your number if you send them a message… throwback to Google Voice anyone?
- Allo supports @ pinging, but limits it only @Google for assistant usage
- Did I mention that Allo has ZERO web client support?
When it all comes down to it Allo is just another application on the Play Store that has a really nifty parlor trick. Google Assistant will make you smile, it will make you impressed, but Allo will disappoint. “Bot conversations” are nice, quick, but currently not worth the trouble. There is little doubt that these interactions, similar to Siri or Alexa, will make it to the standard Google application for your enjoyment at some point. Unless you must have it right now, there is no need to use Allo today. This really sucks because I was very excited about it, I was one of the many who thought Allo would be Google’s best foot forward. Now I don’t even have it installed anymore, I didn’t bother setting my wife up with it, and we went back to Facebook Messenger, an all-in-one fully featured chat client.
Stumbling out of the gate is something many products do and they can rebound, but I’d say Allo fell flat on its face. No doubt, Google will make this product better and will probably fix a lot of these issues. But the chat client race is high stakes right now, there is little to no reason to leave your preferred chat client today, especially after convincing several friends and family members to join your favorite solution. Over the past 12 months most have become really good, integrated into other services making entry easier, offering chat and video chat within the same application, and some are secure.
There simply is no reason you should stop using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS or even… Hangouts. Google missed the mark, failed to leverage its strengths, and delivered an entirely disappointing chat client… it’s almost like the last 4 months have been spent figuring out the icon.