Google announced two new messaging platforms at Google I/O: Allo, an upcoming application heavily integrated with Google Assistant, and Duo, a video app that showcases live footage from incoming calls before users even pick up. These apps also come a mere two days after Google announced Spaces, a group chat application and social network that’s heavily integrated with Google’s own search engine.
Why introduce three separate apps, though? And doesn’t Google already have Hangouts, which offers messaging, group chats, and video conferencing? And isn’t there also something called Google Messenger?
You’re not wrong to wonder, and today’s Google I/O keynote did not clarify whether these new services will exist alongside old tools or replace them entirely. Google told Digital Trends that Hangouts will continue to be supported, and grow, and that every app serves a unique purpose. At the same time, all three new services will offer features not currently seen in Hangouts, some of which will overlap with the platform and others to varying degrees.
To quickly summarize, Google currently offers, or will soon offer:
- Allo: A messaging service for mobile devices that integrates tightly with Google Assistant.
- Duo: A one-to-one video chat service for mobile devices that’s designed to show a live preview before you pick up a call.
- Hangouts: A messaging service for mobile and desktop devices that also offers video chat.
- Spaces: A new platform that meshes group chat capabilities with a social network, so users can for share links and converse about them on mobile and desktop devices.
- Messenger: Google’s SMS/MMS application for Android phones.
- Voice: A barely-supported web service that allows users to combine various phones with one number for voice calls and SMS/MMS.
Confused? Let’s break things down a little more.
Allo aims to be a smart messaging app with search integration
Let’s start with Allo. This new messenger application is heavily integrated with Google Assistant, Google’s upcoming conversational AI, which makes it possible to get quick answers to almost any question. This means that, if you’re talking with a friend about plans for Thursday, you could look up a place to eat and even make a reservation all without leaving Allo.
These features are exciting, and we can’t wait to try them out, but there’s more to Allo than just that. Here’s a quick rundown.
- Smart replies: Over time, Allo will learn your typical responses to certain phrases, or pictures of babies, and suggest appropriate responses like,”Cute!” These smart replies will even pick up on your emoji and sticker habits, and suggest appropriate responses.
- End-to-end encryption: Communication over Allo is secure, and Google can’t even crack it.
- Whispershout: This feature lets you toggle a slider to adjust the size of your text. Google suggests large text as a replacement for ALL CAPS YELLING, and small text for subtly.
So that’s Allo, a text-based platform with some new features and heavy Google integration.
Duo is Google’s new, one-on-one video call platform
What about Duo? This is a video chat service is best compared to Apple’s FaceTime. It’s currently exclusive to mobile devices, and calls are tied to your phone number instead of your Google account. The defining feature, however, is how incoming calls look. Instead of merely showing you a name and a photo, Duo presents you with a live video feed from the phone of whoever is calling you.
Picking up is instant, meaning you’ll be able to talk as soon as you answer the call. That’s a huge contrast to Hangouts’ video chats, which can be very slow in this regard.
But Hangouts seems to have at least one advantage here. Duo is billed as a “simple, one-to-one video calling app for everyone,” which implies that group calls will not be supported. So does the name “Duo,” now that we think of it. It seems like, at least for now, users can use Duo for one-on-one conversations, but will need Hangouts for group video chats.
Spaces lets groups share links and chat
Speaking of groups, Google also announced Spaces earlier this week. The application functions as both a chat client and a social network, and is in many way, serves as Google’s answer to services like GroupMe, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. Integration with Google’s search engine is also a key focus, allowing users to look things up without leaving Spaces.
The app is intended more for people with specific interests to get together and talk about them than general messaging.