Why Can’t Google Get Messaging Right?

September 28, 2016
Ashley Rondeau

Google Allo is the company’s 3rd, 4th, or maybe 6th attempt at a messaging platform for Android users… depending on how you’re counting. The history of Google’s attempts in messaging is almost as complicated as Google Wave was. Remember Google Wave (aka Apache Wave now)? That was Allo back before apps ruled the world. It failed, just like Allo probably will.
Google Allo
So why can’t Google get it right? After all, a lot of their competitors have already done it. Facebook Messenger, Apple’s iMessage, WhatsApp, even Twitter DMs; all these platforms have evolved and gotten better with new features and updates, and yet here’s Google launching another messaging instead of iterating on what they have. Let’s pick apart the bad decisions Google has made on the way to it’s latest messaging app.

1. Google can’t recognize a good thing going (ie. Hangouts).

google-hangoutsGoogle Hangouts is great. Before Allo and Duo, it was both of those things and more, and it still is since it’s still currently available and still being updated. It has a 4-star rating on the Google Play store from millions of reviews and billions of downloads.
It sends chat messages, text messages (something Allo can’t do), images, pictures, stickers, and has a popular video chat component that it’s best known for. In the same app! A novel idea, now that you need both Allo and Duo. Google’s obviously trying to win over the iPhone crowd who is used to two apps (iMessage and Facetime), but Android users are already used to a combined app. As The Verge put it, this is a big step backwards.
We’re not alone in thinking this way. Plenty of Android advocates are telling users not to switch from Hangouts to Allo. Again, Allo doesn’t have SMS support, which is a huge deal. But there’s more (or less, we suppose): no desktop support, no browser extension support, no Gmail integration, no Google Voice integration. Basically, if Hangouts is MS Office, Allo is just Word.

2. Google doesn’t understand what its users want.

Google’s goal with Allo is to make messaging simple and powerful. Hangouts, granted, is a bit tricky to use for newbies. There are a lot of features to dig into. Allo is dead simple, but in the way a knife is simple compared to a Swiss Army Knife: there’s only one thing you can do with it. Sure, Allo comes with  Google’s AI chatbot, which is the shiny new toy designed to make users download the app. It’s fine. We’ve all seen it before when it was called “Google Now.”
Google doesn’t seem to understand the one thing Android users ask for over and over again: consistency. All the major complaints of Android can be distilled into that. Users complain about OS fragmentation because it’s not consistent. Users complain about Android flagship hardware: is it Nexus or Pixel, make up your mind! With messaging, it’s a huge pain to have to switch platforms every few years. Simply improving on the current app would be more consistent.
So if Hangouts was difficult to use, why didn’t it get a UX refresh? Why not bring Duo’s fun “knock knock” feature to Hangouts as well? At the very least, why not integrate the new AI chatbot into the messaging platform that tens of millions already use? At the end of the day, users don’t want to constantly download and learn new apps. Users want new features in the apps they already have. Facebook Messenger has added new features over the years to its one app, so we know it’s possible!

3. Google loves to reinvent the wheel.

It’s as if Google is just so big now, the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, and thus different teams keep coming up with the same products. There’s Hangouts and Allo/Duo, but also don’t forget Google Messenger (that just does SMS texting). Then there are two social networks: Google+ and Google Spaces. There’s Google Voice to make WiFi calls, but there’s also Hangouts Dialer, but you can do it from within Hangouts as well. There’s a Gmail app and and Inbox app. There’s even Chrome and also a built-in Android web browser. The mentality seems to be “well this app will be better!”

Source: xkcd.com
So here we are, with 2 (or 3 or 6) messaging apps from Google that have fragmented Android users as much as the OS. We hope Allo fails if only to help Google learn that creating a new competing app for a weary audience isn’t how to win them over, but it’s doubtful it’ll learn the lesson. That is until its users give up on Google messaging apps altogether and flock to Facebook or WhatsApp. All we know is this: the Messaging War is heating up, and Google is shooting itself in the foot.
What do you think of Google Allo?

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