Google has begun rolling out Allo for Android and iPhone, offering users their first peek at its artificial intelligence-based cross-platform smart messaging solution.
“Google Allo can help you make plans, find information, and express yourself more easily in chat,” Google’s Amit Fulay says. “And the more you use it, the more it improves over time.”
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Google announced Allo in May at its Google IO conference alongside a new video chat app called Duo, which has since been released to the public. It was instantly controversial on a number of levels: We’re already awash in messaging solutions, critics charged, such as Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and many others. And Google already had at least two messaging solutions of its own, Hangouts, which is cross-platform, and the Messages app in Android.
But as Google explained at the time, Allo is a modern messaging platform, backed by artificial intelligence. And like other smart messaging solutions, it is aimed at a growing generation of users who are ignoring old-fashioned communications solutions like email in favor of more personal, immediate, and private ways to reach out to others.
That doesn’t help position Allo against Hangouts and Google Messages, of course. For now, Google claims that Hangouts will be repositioned as a messaging/video conferencing solution for businesses. I don’t buy that: If Allo matures into the product Google envisions, it will replace Hangouts for both individuals and businesses. And Hangouts will simply disappear.
We have a ways to go before that future, however. Based on initial reviews of Allo—in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, both of which gained access to the app five days ago—Google has a bit of work to do.
The NYT’s Brian X. Chen refers to the Google Assistant-based AI in Allo as “the unhelpful assistant,” noting that it was “frustrating” and “sometimes doesn’t even work.” And Nathan Olivarez-Giles from the WSJ concurs, stating that Google Assistant “is only accurate about half the time.”
The AI-based Google Assistant is of course the entire point of Allo, but given Google’s cloud-based strengths, I suspect they can fix that pretty easily. And as I noted in my preview, the reason Allo is more interesting than, say, Skype Bots, is that Google Assistant will pop-up like a gopher when needed, when you’re communicating with a real human. The idea is that it’s sitting there waiting to prompt you—sort of like the Gary Walsh character in “Veep”—as you talk to others. (You can also use it the old-fashioned way and set up sad little conversations with your AI bot buddy.)
So, we’ll see. As Google notes, the app is just now beginning to roll out on Android and iPhone—I installed it on my Google Nexus 6P, but the iPhone can’t “see” the app in the store yet—and will try to use it as my only messaging app for a while. But regardless of how this one app pans out, something tells me that smart messaging, in general, is going to be a huge topic for the next year or so.