The Netflix show Stranger Things may not be the most original Spielbergian homage to 1980s movies, but it’s a well-crafted, sincere love letter of the most endearing kind: It has Eggo waffles, Dungeons and Dragons, bicycles, and kids with psychokinetic abilities, along with an abundance of clever winks and nods to movies from that period. Look hard enough and you’ll spot references to Jaws, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Twin Peaks, and dozens more flicks from one of sci-fi’s golden eras, nostalgia that evidently struck a cord.
An estimated 14 million people watched the series in its first 35 days of availability, number that were apparently music to Google’s opportunistic ears. On Friday, the search giant announced a partnership with Netflix that will see Stranger Things’ most iconic scenes and characters appear in Allo, Google’s voice messaging app.
Allo, for the unaware, is akin to messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Line, and the like. You sign up with a mobile phone number, and your conversations are synced locally to your phone. You’re mostly limited to messaging other Allo users, but an SMS relay lets you invite others to download and install the app.
Stranger Things is premiering on Allo in the form of a sticker pack that will no doubt ring a bell for any devotee of the show from the Duffer Brothers. There’s a graphic “Lando” cap, a sketched-out homemade slingshot, an animated seven-sided board game die, an impressionistic cathode ray tube TV, and more. All are a free download from within Allo’s sticker storefront, and appear alongside other images and GIFs in the messaging interface when installed.
And for Allo users who happen to live in New York City, there’s more: an AI-powered scavenger hunt. Type “Where is Barb” — a reference to a Stranger Things character’s untimely end — and you’ll receive directions to a location in the city’s SoHo district. From there, Allo will map the way to a “mind-control vending machine” that will drop a “suggestion chip.” That chip, when tapped, will divulge the location on one of several ’80s-era Halloween treats: a sticker, a BMX bike, a Panasonic boombox, a Pentax camera, and more.
It’s not the first Stranger Things collaboration between Google and Netflix, believe it or not. The two tech giants worked together to craft a terrifying virtual reality experience for Google Cardboard, Google’s handset-powered VR hardware.
The Stranger Things tie-in is just one fresh coat of paint Allo’s gotten in recent days. A major update added a monochrome theme, a landscape orientation, direct messages, and the ability to reply to messages directly from notifications on iOS and Android. On iOS, you can now scribble on photos before you send them to friends. And on smartphones running Android 7.1 Nougat, Allo gained compatibility with the operating system’s split-screen mode — you can, for example, carry on a conversation in one window while watching clips from Stranger Things in another. Finally, it now plugs into the operating system’s new GIF keyboard tool and launcher shortcuts — you can search for animated clips to send a friend while you’re chatting, or quickly start a new conversation from the Allo shortcut on your home screen.
Allo may not be the blockbuster for Google in the same way that Stranger Things was for Netflix, but it has done well enough for itself. The nascent messaging platform managed to rack up more than a million downloads in three days, growth likely attributable to tight integration with Google’s intriguing eponymous intelligence, the Google Assistant. It’s an artificially intelligent bot that performs Google searches, plays games, sets alarms and reminders, and even suggests contextually appropriate replies to messages.
Allo’s launch hasn’t been without its rough patches. After Google backtracked on a decision not to store Allo communications, privacy advocates including Edward Snowden protested, arguing that the service, which doesn’t encrypt most messages, would be subject to surveillance by law enforcement. (Allo offers secure messaging in Incognito Chats, involving secure messaging channels between a variable number of users, but it isn’t enabled by default.)
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