Google Allo launched: Is it smarter than WhatsApp, iMessage?

The much awaited Goggle Allo has finally been launched,  the messaging app was presented as a step forward for privacy.

Alongside the end-to-end-encrypted Incognito Mode, the Allo team talked about bold new message retention practices, storing messages only transiently rather than indefinitely giving stiff competition to its existing competitors – WhatsApp, iMessenger and Facebook Messenger, what differentiates Allo is its ‘smart’ abilities.

You can start using Allo by going to Google Play Store and installing it on your Android device. The interface is pretty bare bones but quite functional for a messaging app. When you launch the app for the first time, the app asks you to verify your mobile number similar to how things work on Google Duo. The SMS verification servers seem to be in place for Allo verification. After the verification, the app asks you to set a profile picture and name.

Fresh features are introduced in Allo

1. Automatic Responses

The app can suggest automatic replies to save users time when they’re on the move.

2. Image Recognition

Allo also draws on Google’s image recognition software for Smart Reply, meaning that it can spot the difference between a cat and baby and suggest responses.

3. The @google Assistant

Google’s virtual assistant can pull information from the internet, embed YouTube videos within a chat and provide up-to-the-minute information.

4. Image illustrations and font sizes

Google’s Allo also contains some of the playful features of Apple’s new iMessage and Facebook’s Messenger, such as the ability to scribble on pictures, send larger and smaller versions of text messages, and custom-designed stickers.

5. Incognito Mode

The chats are encrypted in Allo, just like WhatsApp, so you don’t have to worry about privacy. When you chat in Incognito mode, messages have end-to-end encryption and additional privacy features like discreet notifications and message expiration.

But not all is well

If WhatsApp is Allo’s inspiration, it may also turn out to be its doom. WhatsApp is great at several things, with ability to offer consumers fuss-free text messaging experience being the core strength for the app. The same is true for Allo. So why would people use Allo and not WhatsApp? Or rather why should people give up WhatsApp and use Allo? The answer, for now, is that they should not. Although it is nice, Allo may not be enough to turn users away from WhatsApp, particularly at a time when all smartphone users and, literally, their aunts use WhatsApp.

allo

Allo is even missing a few crucial features. Ability to make calls, for example is one. Although the WhatsApp calling feature has not turned out to be as well as what the developers behind it were hoping for, it is a convenience. It is there. You can just tap the phone sign and make a call to a WhatsApp user. On Allo you can’t, which is rather surprising given the fact that on Hangouts, another Google messaging app, you can.

Allo, apart from borrowing everything that is great about WhatsApp, also borrows everything that is missing. Two complaints that WhatsApp users make are web support for chats and multi-device support. WhatsApp has a web chat client but it is just a shell. Now, in defence of WhatsApp, it is because this is an app totally reliant on a phone number. But Google, in Allo, not only uses the phone number of the user but also the Google account (although it’s optional). Google is arguably world’s top web firm and yet it is missing a feature in Allo that would have allowed seamless sync between devices. In fact, this is a feature that is out there in Google Hangouts as well as was part of Google Talk. And users loved it. The seamless sync between chats from PC to the mobile was one of the great features of Google Talk. Allo lacks it, something that I feel is a great miss on the part of Google.

Allo also doesn’t support multiple-devices. This too is a lost opportunity, considering the fact that WhatsApp users absolutely hate the fact that they can’t use the service on two devices. Allo could have been different from WhatsApp here, in a better way, but it is not.

Although it is nice, Allo may not be enough to turn users away from WhatsApp, particularly at a time when all smartphone users and, literally, their aunts use WhatsApp

Finally, there is the matter of the messaging chaos on the Android phones. The messages are just scattered across the device. On an iPhone, the iMessage seamlessly combines SMS and instant messaging. With Hangouts, Google tried to do the same but in such clumsy way that everyone hated it. With Allo it had an opportunity to set it right. But that is not happening. In fact, with Allo Google had a chance to create a messaging app similar to the iMessage but for all platforms and not just iPhone. But again, a missed opportunity.

Sum of it all

Although it is missing features, it is easy to see that Allo is fun to use and is smart, arguably the smartest messaging app. It will definitely find its fans and it is a much better messaging app than Hangouts will ever be. But it is not a slam dunk.

WhatsApp will feel challenged by Allo. But WhatsApp has the momentum and mass of over a billion users so it will not be an easy going for Google Allo. The fact that Google misses out on couple of features, where it could have truly beaten WhatsApp, also doesn’t help its case.