Google I/O brought some big announcements last year, such as the introduction of Google Daydream, Google Home, Google Assistant, and two (technically three if you include Spaces, which I completely forgot about until I saw in the news today that it is already getting the axe) new messaging apps called Allo and Duo. While Daydream, Home, and Assistant are thriving and appear to be making headway, the messaging apps have struggled to take off. Why? Because Google has a reputation for their messaging apps, and – surprise – it’s not a very good one.
Allo and Duo, when announced, both seemed like good ideas. Allo can send texts, pictures and videos, stickers, and animations, resize text, has Google Assistant integration and cross-platform support. Duo, the video messaging app, is a separate app that was still worth checking out because it was just that – a video messaging app. Unlike Allo’s appeal of adding pizazz and frills to messaging, Duo took away the fluff that typically comes with video chat apps, and in practice was simple enough for just about anybody to use. For all intents and purposes, Duo seems to do just fine; it’s Allo that’s struggling to find a purpose.
So what went wrong? How did this app with so many interesting features manage to fall flat? Simply put, Allo appears to be neither complete nor convenient enough to use over other messaging apps.
You can’t talk to people using Allo’s fancy features unless the people you’re talking to use Allo as well, so recruitment is required. Fortunately, Google took care of this issue for you; unfortunately, it was obnoxiously executed. You can technically send an SMS to somebody who doesn’t have Allo, but your conversation is limited to text only, and the recipient is also informed that you’re using Allo and are sent an invite to download the app so that they can enjoy the fancy features, too. I’m not saying that it isn’t a good idea, but it didn’t work out that well for me.
Since its release, Allo has had a couple of updates that have included more stickers and chat themes – probably the two things that the app needs the least. People don’t avoid Allo because it’s lacking in design or fun features; in fact, those are the two areas that Allo has locked down. What’s missing is proper SMS integration and other useful functionality like desktop integration (which appears to be in the works now).
But being “in the works” at this point feels too little too late. People that were excited about Allo were already using or have moved on to more functional apps by now, and I’m not sure that Allo will necessarily get another opportunity to have as big of an impact as it could have when it was first released. Even if desktop and proper SMS integration will eventually be implemented in Allo, I just don’t see the platform attracting more than a few people. There are too many alternatives out there that are better for messaging, and Google has had more than enough chances between Wave, Buzz, Hangouts, Huddle, Messenger, Spaces, Allo, and Duo. Google is great at a lot of things, but I’ve since come to the conclusion that messaging is not their strong point.