Last year Google released a pair of apps called Allo and Duo to address the messaging and video calling market. Many bemoaned yet another set of apps from Google instead of updating existing ones. With competition from Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook), and iMessage by Apple, why did Google need yet another app. History of Google Hangouts and even their own Messenger app were not great. The special sauce in Allo that wasn’t in any of their other apps was their new digital assistant called Google Assistant.
Challenges with Conversion from Other Apps
Even with over 10M downloads of Allo as of December 2016, adoption has been a challenge. The first 5M of those was in the first five days. The second 5M was in the following months. The biggest issue is that if you want to really take advantage of it you need to have both parties using it. Even if it is on iOS and Android. When Allo first came out, I wondered how I would adopt it from using Google Hangouts for work and just plain Messenger for my phone. Because even if I used Allo as my primary messaging app, my recipients of messages would see my phone as some odd combination of letters and numbers as my “identity” to them. Let’s also just consider that older generations were not going to install a new app on their phone. Younger generation was and is still into WhatsApp and SnapChat. So we had non-starters right from the get go.
Missed Opportunity – Should Have Updated Messenger
So why didn’t Google just update Messenger, their default messaging app, to include Google Assistant? I don’t know. Maybe they needed/wanted a clean slate from a new codebase. Maybe there was some shared infrastructure between Allo and Duo. Regardless of the reason, it is a missed opportunity to update an existing app that had a large install base vs. requiring a new install. While Facebook had some success with this by pulling Facebook Messenger out of the native Facebook App, they had wide adoption of using the feature already. I know I held out downloading FB Messenger as a separate app. Now that I have it, I only use it occasionally. However, on a recent log in to communicate with a friend, a new Chatbot feature, “M” showed up and introduced itself to me. And here is where things get interesting.
ChatBots in Messaging Apps
So I’m a fan of Google Assistant which is essentially a chatbot. Especially since I have a Google Home already and I interact with Google Assistant every day at home. It is not a native application yet on my MotoX Pure Edition. You can only get Google Assistant on Pixel phones (soon to be others). Regardless of how Google is going about rolling out Google Assistant, Facebook just updated an existing app that is installed on millions of devices. Siri is already in all iPhones. Cortana…well yeah, it’s around. But Samsung is now introducing a digital assistant into their Galaxy phones with the Galaxy S8. The point is this, whether you call it a digital assistant or a chatbot, they are coming and they are going to be the “new” thing for consumers.
Google, you’ve missed an opportunity. I hope you can get it figured out. Maybe you need the premium hardware of the newer phones to get Google Assistant more widely adopted. Allo was a nice try, but it was dead out of the water by limiting its features. You would have been better off updating an existing installed app to bring new features than making users download yet another app. Here’s to hoping that the best part of Allo, Google Assistant, makes a bigger impact soon.