Getting at the root of why Google’s new messaging app exists — and why it feels so inconsequential.
The best apps are the ones that address a genuine problem or void in our lives. Inbox made it easier to manage incoming email, especially from mobile; Chrome made it simple to keep browser tabs synced across multiple devices and platforms; and Photos made it feasible to store and manage oodles of images without worrying about limited local space. 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.
Allo, for the uninitiated, is basically an alternate version of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or even Google’s own (still in existence) Hangouts. It lets you communicate via text, photos, and stickers with people you know — either one on one or in a group setting — provided they’re also using the app.
Allo’s calling card, so to speak, is the presence of the new Google Assistant — an artificial intelligence-based bot that lives in the app and stands by to take your questions.
The easiest way to think about Assistant is as an expanded and rebranded version of the voice search system available on Android today. You can ask it the same sorts of stuff you might ask Google by talking to your phone (or typing into a search box) now — anything from basic facts to movie times, info on nearby businesses, news and weather, or personal info from your email (like the status of an upcoming flight).
You’ll get the same sorts of answers you’d get from regular voice search, only within a chat window and with a more human-emulating vibe.
And that’s really the core of what Allo’s all about — keeping you within your messaging app, where many of us spend much of our time, and still keeping you connected to Google.
It’s worth noting, however, that Assistant itself won’t actually be exclusive to Allo; the same system will also be implemented into the new Google Home tabletop assistant device later this year, and all signs suggest it’ll soon be integrated into the main Google app and turned into a core part of the overall Android experience. It appears Assistant will ultimately become a unified umbrella brand for features like Google Now and Now On Tap as well as the regular system-level voice search. Allo is just one of the many vessels in which it’ll exist.
So what’s the real benefit of using Allo, then? Sure, there’s a touch of added convenience in being able to call up external info while chatting, without having to switch apps — and the suggested replies can be handy on occasion — but in the grand scheme of things, those feel like pretty minimal perks. Allo’s larger value, I suspect, lies on Google’s side of the equation.
Searching for Allo’s value
Much has been written over the past several months about how companies like Facebook are dominating the mobile messaging market while Google sits on the sidelines. And with Facebook making a big deal lately about its own Messenger bots — chat-based programs that let you do things like search for flights, get news, and place orders for actual merchandise — Google is facing a serious threat of getting cut out from the kinds of interactions that serve as its bread and butter.
Remember: Google is a business, and it makes its money primarily by selling ads. In order to do that effectively, it needs you to use the internet and thus its services, including search, as much as possible so it can cater ads to your interests. If it doesn’t know enough about you, it can’t accomplish its primary corporate goal. And if you’re spending a fair amount of time in a messaging app that provides its own nascent form of internet search, Google stands to lose out on a lot of valuable data.
So, yeah: With that context at hand, it’s easy to understand why Google wants to create its own messaging universe and do everything it can to keep you inside of it — or at least keep you relying on Google to get wherever you need to go. The real question for us, though, isn’t why Allo might be worthwhile to Google. It’s why it might be worthwhile to you.
Want to know about the features Allo is lacking??
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