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Google previewed two new communications apps at its recent I/O conference. Both the Allo smart messaging app and the Duo video calling app include features that differentiate them from Google’s existing communications platform, Hangouts. They also add yet another component to Google’s communications app strategy, following the company’s acquisition of Jibe Mobile in October 2015 and its subsequent RCS partnership with the GSMA and several mobile operators.

Machine learning and AI will attract punters, but how do Allo and Duo fit into a wider strategy?

By previewing Allo and Duo at I/O, Google sent a strong signal that it is refusing to concede defeat to its rival, Facebook, in the battle for communications apps mindshare, even though Facebook dominates the market with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram.

Having so far failed to excite consumer attention with Hangouts (the all-in-one communications app that enables text, voice, and video), Google has upped the ante with the standalone Allo and Duo apps, which will be free for Android and iOS when they hit the market in the summer. Google has added machine learning (i.e. Smart Reply) and artificial intelligence (i.e. Google Assistant) to Allo. Duo will reportedly use WebRTC to enhance the video calling experience.

It is unclear how far Google might have integrated Jibe technology into the development of Allo and Duo. So far Google is focusing attention on the inclusion of Smart Reply and the Google Assistant in Allo, which will enable automated responses and access to content and services, both on the device (e.g. Search, Maps, and Translate) and from third parties. In this respect, Google is very much setting itself against Facebook, which recently added bots and its M virtual assistant to Facebook Messenger. Via Google Assistant, Google is doubling down on its strategy to address the changing ways in which consumers search for information and services, a core business for the company.

It is highly likely that Allo will include many of the other messaging capabilities that users have come to expect from a communications app, but whether these features will be based on Hangouts or Jibe Mobile is yet to be made clear. A similar scenario applies to Duo. Given that Google’s work with the GSMA and telcos on RCS might take time to come to fruition, and that the initial RCS universal profile is likely to be limited in scope and not available natively in Android, it makes sense that Google would want to make use of Jibe’s rich communications capabilities to revamp its communications apps. But it is also possible that Google has used Hangout capabilities as the core for Allo.

In developing Allo and Duo, Google has placed a question mark over the future of Hangouts in its current format as a consumer service. Questions will also emerge about what the development of Allo and Duo means for Google’s partnership with the GSMA and its commitment to RCS.


Further reading

OTT Communications Tracker: 3Q15, TE0003-000889 (December 2015)

“Facebook bets big on bots,” ME0002-000664 (April 2016)

“Another RCS initiative, this time involving Google,” TE0003-000909 (February 2016)

Rich Communication Summit, 2015, TE0003-000891 (January 2016)

"Google’s acquisition of Jibe Mobile signals all-inclusive approach to next-generation communications," TE0003-000877 (October 2015)


Pamela Clark-Dickson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Services

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