Back in May, Google announced two innovative new mobile messaging apps, Allo and Duo, which are aimed at text and video messaging, respectively. And today, Google delivered the first release of its Duo video calling app for both Android and iPhone.
These apps came under a bit of fire when they were first announced, with the most obvious charge being that we’re already inundated by messaging apps. Also, some critics pointed out that Google’s messaging story was already confusing, as the firm ships both a standard Messaging app plus Google Hangouts on Android.
I don’t see it that way. Messaging has clearly emerged as the next big platform, and all major platform makers—yes, including Microsoft and Apple—are racing to catch up to relative newcomers like Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Allo and Duo, clearly, are simply Google’s take on this brave new world. Whether they replace Messaging/Hangouts on Android is sort of coincidental, as the market will decide that.
As I noted previously, Duo appears to mirror Skype’s video chat capabilities, but its real competition—sorry, Microsoft—is Apple Facetime. That is, it links to your phone number, so it’s always with you. But unlike Facetime (and, yes, like Skype), Duo is cross-platform, so it doesn’t just work with iPhones.
“You shouldn’t have to worry about whether your call will connect, or if your friend is using the same type of device as you are,” Google Duo Principal Software Engineer Justin Uberti writes in a new post to the Official Google Blog. “It’s no wonder that nearly half of us never make video calls on mobile.”
In other words, f#$k you, Apple.
Google Duo is pretty basic, today. It’s billed as a “simple 1-to-1 video calling app,” meaning it can’t do group video calls, like Skype. But that simplicity is also a boon, I think, and not because, as Google claims, the lack of group video calling means “you can be together in the moment wherever you are.” By using your phone number and your contacts list, Duo will just work. There’s no separate account required (problems with both Facetime and anything Google+ related), and sign-up is easy.
It’s also supposedly fast and reliable, even on slower networks. At least that’s what Google claims: We’ll see how things go after (of if) the service is used by millions of people. But Google says Duo will switch between Wi-Fi and cellular data automatically without dropping calls, and it will “gracefully reduce the resolution” if bandwidth becomes limited.
Beyond the sheer simplicity of it, the premier Duo feature is a video preview Google cloyingly calls Knock, Knock. This lets you see live video of the caller before you answer the call, which is actually a great idea. On Android, the experience is seamless and it appears right over the home screen or lock screen. On iPhone, it’s a bit less so, as you must navigate to the app after getting a notification. (Yes, you can turn this off if your friends are exhibitionists or whatever.)
And yes, all Duo calls are encrypted end-to-end for privacy and security reasons.
Duo is rolling out now on both Android and iPhone, and will be available worldwide. I’ve only just started playing around with it, and on Android only as it’s not showing up for me on iPhone yet, but then I’m not a big video chat person. I’ll do what I can do. 🙂