Through Allo & Duo, Google Continues to Send a Convoluted Message
A decade ago, in August of 2005, Google launched an Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) instant messaging service dubbed “Google Talk.” One of Google’s stated goals with the service was “interoperability,” and it showed.
Users were free to choose their client from many applications such as Trillian, Pidgin, Psi, Adium, or simply a Gmail browser tab.
In addition to being application-agnostic, Talk offered tight integration with the exciting, relatively new at the time, Gmail service. Logging was automatic, with users conversation histories being stored in a “Chats” tab within Gmail. This Talk and Google account integration would only evolve as Google continued to integrate features.
Four years later, in 2009, Google launched “Google Voice.” At its heart, Google Voice is simply a telephony service that offers call forwarding, visual voicemail, and cheaper international calling rates. To function, the service would provide users with a new phone number tied to their Google account. Additionally, the service provided free and archived data connection based texting to and from this new number. Keep in mind, in 2009 texting plans here in the USA (Google’s only Voice market) were sky high — this was a huge added value.
The only downside of the free texting was needing to install and use the Google Voice Android app. Being an early adopter of all things technology, I signed up for Voice immediately. (I have given out my Voice number as a main number for several years now.)
During the next few years Google would be begin to dabble in Social Networking. After a mostly forgetten detour with Google Buzz, Google launched the social network “Google+” in 2011. Initially, Google+ signups were largely a byproduct of other Google service sign-ups like Gmail.
Google has a serious issue with focus, and well-liked services end up canned away
By may of 2013, Google was maintaining several similar, but different, messaging services: Talk, Google+ Messenger, Google launched Hangouts. Google announced they would be discontinuing Talk and moving to the new, non-XMPP compliant, Hangouts service. Reactions were decidedly mixed. Some users were upset about dropping the XMPP standard. Other users were excited at the idea of a unified “Google Messaging” platform. Overall, It was refreshing to see Google sorting out their messaging woes.
Fast forward to 2016. Hangouts has been been through several version bumps. Many features like Quick Reply and (so many) stickers have been added. However, one doesn’t have to look very far to see complaints about the messaging service. Hangouts on Android is clunky, it’s downright awful looking on Android tablets, and it’s still not a proper iMessage competitor. Users still have to purposefully sign up for and “log in” to Hangouts and it’s not tied to a phone number. It’s not anywhere near as seamless as the iMessage experience. Also, during these last few years Google launched a standalone SMS application aptly named Messenger, despite the fact that the Hangouts application itself can serve as a device’s SMS app.
At 2016’s IO developer conference, Google decided to convolute the messaging issue even further by announcing Allo and Duo. Allo is Google’s mobile-only, tied-to-a-phone-number, messaging application. Duo is essentially Google’s FaceTime competitor for face-to-face video calling. Google announced these two apps despite the fact that Hangouts can SMS, send data messaging, and make one to one (or many to many) video calling. There’s no arguing that Allo and Duo both offer some interesting and worthwhile features (AI all the things!). Unfortunately, Google insists on further fragmenting their messaging user base to implement them. Google insists that Hangouts will be sticking around. I’m inclined to believe this if only for the fact that Project Fi (and Google Voice) – a paid service – relies heavily on Hangouts.
This leaves us with an increasingly and unnecessarily complicated future regarding Google’s messaging options. Want to talk to bots? Use Allo. Want to use Google Voice? Gotta use hangouts. Want to send an SMS? Allo, Hangouts, or Messenger will handle that. How about using your PC or desktop to send SMS? Hangouts is the only choice here. That’s right, as of now Allo won’t support a desktop client. I’ve been sending text messages from Chrome (via my Google Voice number) for almost a decade.
Google has a serious issue with focus. One doesn’t have to look far to find a litany of services that were well-liked by users, but ultimately were canned anyway. Google Reader, Google Wave, Google Latitude, and many others were all axed. Now, Google will be asking users to again invest in another set of messaging services and bring their friends along. Are hangouts users supposed to move on to Allo? Should they use both? It’s hard to say what Google’s intentions are. It seems clear that Google’s users would be far better off with Allo features integrated into Hangouts. After all, what good is a messaging app if you have no one to message? At least with Allo you’ll have bots to keep you company.