It was the first Google Assistant-enabled product. It was suppose to be the messaging app from Google to finally take off. And, it was so much fun to use.
I’m talking about Allo, the messaging app Google launched in September 2016. I was able to try it out before it went public, and found the app playful, the design to be clean, and useful, thanks to Allo’s in-app access to Google Assistant. You could make emojis from your likeness and customize them, and you could send large or tiny messages to evoke tone in conversations. These and many other reasons were enough for me to convince everyone in my life — my girlfriend, pals, and siblings — to switch to Allo (and they did). And since then, all of us have been using it to chat with each other.
So, why would Google shut down what I believe is its best messaging app in years? While Google has been known to discontinue apps and services that are no longer viable, Allo’s following was small and Google has another strategy for messaging apps. Still, killing off an app that I love — and got others to love — stings.
It’s difficult asking someone to switch to a new messaging app; people like what they know. It’s a problem Google’s been dealing with for years as it tries to attract users from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — with six or more messaging services — to create an Apple iMessage-equivalent for Android. But the writing was on the wall well before Google announced it would shut down Allo — the app just never pulled enough people to use it.
But I had been able to convince a few people I talk to — the ones I converse with the most — into using Google’s app instead of Facebook Messenger. Was I desperately searching for an alternative? Yes, I was ticked-off by the ads in Facebook Messenger, and the giant push into Snapchat-like Stories — which I don’t care for — didn’t help. And at the time, Messenger’s design left much to be desired (the new redesign is great, especially with dark mode, but ads are still present and very annoying).
Were my friends and family purely indulging me? Probably. But over a short period of time, they were thoroughly enjoying many of Allo’s marquee features, like asking Google Assistant questions in the middle of conversations, enlarging or miniaturizing messages for comedic or dramatic effect, and sending selfie stickers for fun. Our most used feature on the app was the ability to quickly create and send GIFs with just the tap of a button — it was such an easy way to share a snippet of our lives.
“You use Allo?” It wasn’t uncommon to get snarky remarks like that when people saw me using the app. But these features all made it a joy to use, and then came the web app, which finally helped Allo get its wings off the ground (let’s be honest, the web app should have arrived on launch day).
As someone who constantly swaps phones for a living, Allo was the only app that needed special attention. I had to make sure I backed up my conversations to Google Drive, before swapping SIMs and activating Allo on the new phone (your account was tied to the device), all to make sure my chats were restored. I’ve only needed to do this with Allo, as almost every other app automatically carried my conversations over with no issue. But, it was worth the extra effort.
I’m a little surprised at how disappointed and sad I feel about not being able to use Allo again. Well-designed apps that offer genuine value can hold emotional weight, and I haven’t found an alternative messaging app that has me as enamored as Allo did. At its core, the features mentioned above are what made me value it in high regard.
It’s a similar story with Google’s Inbox by Gmail app, which is also shutting down this month. I’ve been using Inbox as my default email app since 2015, and its core features are what kept me so attached to it. You can set location-based reminders; the app bundles emails to make email more visual (e.g. “Trip to Lisbon”); you can snooze emails for another time or place. A few of these features are now baked into Gmail, and there are rumors Google is testing other Inbox features in Gmail for Android. I’ve already transitioned to using Gmail full time, mostly because I’m happy with the app’s redesign, and because I’m hoping all the features I loved in Inbox will soon make its way to Gmail. But that isn’t so with Allo — the features I love may not show up elsewhere.
It’s a good time to point out that the apps I seem hung up on are from Google; the company is notorious for shutting down apps not too long after they’re introduced. I don’t have any animosity toward Google, but I should probably have learned my lesson never to get too attached to a Google app. This tweet probably best describes how I feel.
— David Damián (@ddg284) March 14, 2019
My friends, family, and I are now using Android Messages, the default texting app on most Android phones. It’s not as fun or quirky as Allo. I also keep trying to make my messages larger in conversations, only to be disappointed it’s not a feature. I like the app’s minimal design, though, and I’m holding on to some hope as Google said it’s “working to bring your favorite features to the Messages app.”
Google’s messaging strategy now revolves around Chat, a new messaging protocol (Rich Communication Services) baked into Android Messages. It will bring features you’ll typically find in instant-messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Allo to traditional texting, like read receipts, the ability to send high-quality photos, typing indicators, and more. But Google’s Chat requires support from all the carriers, in order for features to work seamlessly for everyone. It may take some time before Android Messages becomes as feature-rich as Allo.
But I’ll just have to wait. And in the meantime, it’s time to uninstall Allo. Before I do, here are a few snippets of reviews for the app on the Google Play Store. I don’t know how truthful some of these notes are, but it does sound like I’m not in the minority.
“From the resurrection of the blob, to the massive text and emoji system, and an unbeatable incognito message system … this app truly did everything right.” — MorrowTomorrow 8089
“My [girlfriend] and I used it to chat for whole 2 years. She proposed me on Allo. We both loved it. Making the emoji/text big or small. Sending small GIFs of our own (small circle). Telling the Assistant to quote us about love every night before sleeping inside our chats. Asking anything to the Assistant inside the chat. The news updates and daily facts from Google Assistant. We will surely miss all.” — Prathmesh Barge
“I’m terribly disappointed that it will be discontinued, and my only hope is that Google’s messaging app takes on a lot of what Allo did for me.” — Marc-André Choquette
“Lost faith in Google … This app had been absolutely perfect. My wife uses an iPhone and she and I exclusively use this app to communicate along with Duo.” — Ryan Mason
“This is absolutely my fav way to message. i am gonna be so heartbroken when it gets torn asunder!” — A Google user
“I love Allo. While it took a lot to convince people to jump on it, once they did they immediately love the features built-in.” — Marcos Soler
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