Google Duo could join growing ranks of duds from search engine giant

Google Duo is the latest in a long line of chat apps from the firm’s communication products that could prove no match for Apple’s Facetime or Microsoft’s Skype


Google Duo is a mobile-only service, at least for now, so what you cannot do is call a friend or colleague from or to a desktop PC or laptop, as is possible on Skype and FaceTime. Photo: AP
Google Duo is a mobile-only service, at least for now, so what you cannot do is call a friend or colleague from or to a desktop PC or laptop, as is possible on Skype and FaceTime. Photo: AP

New Delhi: Google Duo, the company’s latest crack at the video chat space, is being promoted as an app whose greatest virtue is its apparent simplicity. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Google’s overall chat apps strategy. It is complicated to say the least.

For one, Duo is the fifth in a long line of chat apps after Hangouts, group chat app Spaces, Messenger, and web-based cell service Voice.

A soon-to-be-launched sixth messaging app integrated with a virtual assistant, Allo, will debut later this year. Google’s plethora of messaging apps makes chatting unnecessarily complex and exhausting.

Users prefer one simple all-encompassing app for messaging. Much like Facebook Inc.’s Messenger platform that is a multifaceted tool for communication—integrating chats, calls, video and even bots now within one interface. Since its debut in 2011, Facebook has worked on the app, adding a gamut of features to make it a one-stop destination for users. That includes giving people the ability to send money, contact businesses, book car rides, play games and more.

With the roll-out of Duo, Google further fragments its suite of apps in this space. Duo works only on a mobile device, which means you cannot use it on a tablet, laptop or desktop. Also, it cannot replace other messaging apps like Apple’s Facetime or Microsoft’s Skype.

Historically, Google’s communication products have been confused and have fumbled for identity. It has two email services—Gmail, which is the top e-mail service in the US based on unique visitors, according to ComScore, and Inbox (an email app that is not hugely popular); three text offerings, Hangouts, Messenger and the upcoming Allo; and now two video chat services, Duo and Hangouts (which offers texting and video calls).

This scatter gun approach is becoming more costly for the company with messaging evolving from a simple way to communicate quickly into the next big technology platform supporting digital commerce, advertising and new services powered by artificial-intelligence.

In 2013, Google launched Google Hangouts, a communication platform which set out to fix its chaotic messaging strategy with a single app, including instant messaging, video chat, SMS and VOIP features. Prior to the launch of Hangouts in 2013, Google had maintained several similar, but technologically separate messaging services and platforms. These included the enterprise-oriented Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and the Hangouts feature of Google+, which allows for group videoconferencing with up to 10 users at once.

However, its increasingly fragmented and non-unified suite of messaging offerings has been dwarfed by the success of services such as Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and WhatsApp. Hangouts has languished also because it requires a Google account, unlike its rivals that used phone numbers to grow faster.

Hangouts ranked 84th among Android apps in the US in July, based on installs and usage, according to SimilarWeb, a web anaytics company, lagging behind Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

According to Google, it has built each app for a different purpose. Hangouts is a cross-platform app tied with Google’s enterprise offerings. Allo, on the other hand, is a mobile app more akin to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Line. You don’t even need a Gmail account to sign up—just a phone number. Google introduced Allo, along with its video calling companion Duo, at its annual I/O developer conference earlier this year. The company describes it as a smart messaging app incorporating artificial intelligence.

Duo is a mobile-only service, at least for now, so what you cannot do is call a friend or colleague from or to a desktop PC or laptop, as is possible on Skype and FaceTime. Google also plans to integrate Duo into its upcoming Allo messaging app, but that is yet to happen.

The inability of the company to integrate its chat offerings in one single unified place is a bit surprising given how the search giant shook up the e-mail space with Gmail which gave users exponentially more free storage than had ever been offered. Today it dominates that area.

But since then whether it was with Google Voice, which offered a second phone number and automatic voicemail transcriptions or Photos last year, where it combined unlimited high-resolution storage with wildly powerful search, the company hasn’t had much success.

Duo, too, isn’t compelling enough despite its “knock knock” feature which lets you see a live video of your caller before you answer. It is likely that your family and friends already use one of the apps already out there for video calls, such as Apple Inc.’s FaceTime, Microsoft Corp.’s Skype, Facebook Inc.’s Messenger, Snapchat Inc.’s namesake app or Google’s own Hangouts. Many people use a combination—an iOS user, for example, might FaceTime with other iPhone owners but use Hangouts to talk to Android phone-using friends.

Without text messaging and group chats, though, Duo just isn’t as useful as its rivals that offer that combination, despite its simplicity.

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