Why Can't Google Get the Hang of Messaging Apps?

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Allo and Duo are coming. Here's hoping they don't join Google's long list of questionable communications apps.

During its I/O conference in May, Google unveiled two new messaging apps that it plans to release this summer: Allo, a chat app similar to WhatsApp or Google Hangouts that integrates machine learning and Google's robust search; and Duo, a video chat app that ostensibly emulates Facetime or… Google Hangouts.

Now, it's never wise to bet against Google (unless perhaps you're Facebook). It simply dominates too many facets of digital culture. But it's hard to help feelings of apprehension when Google announces two new messaging apps; an area where the company has not only struggled to gain a foothold, but has a long history of sobering failures and questionable decisions.

While Allo and Duo look awesome on the surface, taken in the context of Google's past and existing messaging products, the forthcoming apps seem redundant at best, if not outright unnecessary.

Currently, Google's messaging offerings include Messager, a pure SMS app the company released last year; Google Chat, an instant messenger attached to gmail that integrates with Hangouts, but remains a separate offering; Google voice, which can send and receive  SMS messages;and Google Hangouts, Google's all-in-one messaging suite that's been used by everyone from musicians and celebrities to the president, and has all the functionality of the aforementioned products (sans merged SMS as of this month).

In many ways, Hangouts represents all that is wrong with Google's approach to messaging applications. The app is highly versatile, and widely available across operating systems. It even has voice call functionality. However, Hangouts had to cannibalized Google Talk, Google Chat, and parts of Google Voice to attain this level of dexterity. Many critics and users of the product have argued that Hangouts' execution on its many functions has been consistently lackluster.

If Hangouts was meant to consolidate Google's disparate communications offerings, the mixed response from users suggests these efforts have been less than successful, and if Hangouts qualifies as a failure, it's largely because Google never seemed to commit to the app; what with the continued existence of its sister services and all. And if consolidation was ever on the cards, the recent release of Messenger, and the pending launch of Allo and Duo indicate that compartmentalization is now the current strategy.

Hopefully, Allo and Duo are as great as they look, but there will come a day when users tire of switching between these two apps, Hangouts, and the slew of other apps that preceded it. When that day comes, will Google combine Allo and Duo, revive Hangouts, or launch a new service that is all of the above? If the latter, we'll likely be here again wondering why the most powerful digital brand in the world can't seem to make up its mind when it comes to digital communication.


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