Now we have Allo, Google’s new attempt at conquering the ever-crowded field of mobile messaging. Allo is the latest in a long and often confusing line of Google messaging apps. It has some interesting touches, like a context-based suggested reply system and an on-demand Google bot that lets you get info from the internet without leaving a chat.
Why it feels so inconsequential.
And that’s where it is struggling — because, again, it doesn’t feel like the app actually solves any meaningful problem we as consumers currently have. And for an app like this to succeed in such a crowded market of competitors, it’s going to have to do something spectacular to win people over.
The challenge here is especially grand because Allo isn’t only an app; it’s a platform. In order for it to have any value for you, a significant portion of your friends and family are also going to have to use it. And realistically, you’re probably going to have to keep using other messaging apps alongside it — including one that’s able to handle your regular SMS text messages.
(Allo can send messages via SMS to contacts who don’t have the app installed, but only in a roundabout and rather confusing way — and with the primary purpose, it seems, of getting the recipient to install the app themselves.)
It’s a similar challenge to the hurdle facing Google’s other new chat app of 2016, Duo, as noted earlier this year:
What it boils down to is this: An empty party isn’t a party, even if the music and refreshments are second to none. And by starting over yet again with Yet Another New Messaging Service, Google is putting itself in the difficult position of having a quiet little gathering right around the corner from the hoppin’ hot spots where everyone’s already hanging out.
The most frustrating part? It didn’t have to be this way.
Google already had a widely adopted messaging platform on its hands in the form of Hangouts. Hangouts was designed to be a single unified spot for all of our messaging needs, with IM-like chatting along with full SMS support, voice calling, and even built-in video chat. It allows you to sign in simultaneously from multiple mobile devices and desktop computers and have your conversations always synced and available, regardless of where you are.
Hangouts was Android’s default messaging app for a while, racking up plenty of registered users — until the company inexplicably decided to shift the app to the back seat and release the confusingly named Messenger in its spotlighted place. And now here we are a year later, with Allo being thrown into the mix on top of that.
Hangouts was and is by no means perfect, but it was a solid foundation for a platform — one that could have evolved and become quite compelling with some ongoing effort and attention (including both general refinement and the addition of Allo’s better features).
Instead, what we have now is Yet Another New Messaging Service — one that’s fine enough but a difficult sell for users already inundated with established messaging options. More often than not, having the Google Assistant in a chat feels like more of a novelty than a necessity (especially considering the same info it provides is so readily available elsewhere on Android). And crucially, Allo lacks many of the core features its more mature counterparts provide — things like full SMS support, voice and video calling, the ability to sign in from multiple devices, and an existing base of available users.
Don’t get me wrong: Allo does some interesting things, and it’s fun to play around with for a while. When it comes to creating a whole new messaging platform from scratch in 2016, though — and convincing enough users to get on board for it to matter — I just don’t know that it’s enough. And that’s a shame, because Google could have done so much more simply by focusing on the foundation it had already created.