Google made a flurry of announcements at Google I/O 2016, including Google Allo and Google Duo, two new apps from the company that look set to take on the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and FaceTime. Read next: Everything that was announced at Google I/O 2016
Update 21 September 2016: Google has confimed via its official blog that Google Allo will be released today. We aren't able to download it from Google Play just yet, but keep checking! You can also pre-register your interest through the Google Play listing. Want to get it on iOS? Take a look at our sister site Macworld UK for an article on how to get Google Allo on iOS right now, anywhere in the world.
What is Google Allo? | Google Allo features
Google Allo is a messaging app which will compete with the likes of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage. Surprisingly, Allo isn’t a Hangouts replacement but its own standalone app coming to iOS and Android soon, but what makes it stand out from the myriad of other messaging apps available?
The main difference is that Allo comes with some machine learning built in, courtesy of Google Assistant, the company’s virtual assistant. As explained by Engineering Director Erik Kay on stage at Google I/O 2016, Allo is a ‘smart’ messaging app that learns over time to make conversations both easier and more productive. That’s all well and good, but what does that actually mean?
Firstly, you’ll be presented with Smart Replies. These aren’t stagnated quick reply options like you see on other messaging platforms, oh no – Google claims that Assistant will learn over time and provide you with personalised answers that you’d actually use. It’ll work when asked things like if you want to go out for dinner, but will also suggest responses to photos because, Google being Google, the company can analyse the photo and its contents, understand the context and suggest a response. Pretty cool, right? You can see it in action below:
However, if you thought it ended there, you’d be wrong. Much like Facebook’s chatbots, you can talk directly to Google Assistant via text directly in Allo, allowing you to search for movies and more all without leaving the app. You can type “@Google” in the chat window to talk directly to Google Assistant, and it’ll provide you with what you require – be it search results or a funny GIF to share with friends. It’s contextual and will remember previous conversations so you can just carry on where you left off last time if necessary.
That’s not all, though - say, for example, you and a friend are discussing where to go for dinner, a smart reply might suggest a dinner reservation. You’ll be able to tap that and be shown a restaurant reservation card full of nearby restaurants, and can even make a reservation via OpenTable quickly and naturally. You can also play games with Google Assistant as demoed during Google I/O, but these seem a little basic at the moment.
What else does Allo offer? Apart from Google Assistant support, Allo is a fairly simple-to-use but feature hungry messaging app. You sign up with your mobile number much like WhatsApp instead of a Google account, as it means both iOS and Android users can use the service without having to join the Google ecosystem. Update: It seems that Allo will be associated with your Google account, but only to personalise the information provided by Google assistant. You will still need a phone number and it would appear that you won't be able to have the same message threads across multiple devices (a limitation shared with Whatsapp).
It also features ‘Expressions’ which are essentially amped-up emojis and stickers that can be used in-chat. Speaking of chat, Allo features an incognito mode that offers end-to-end encryption and expiring chats for those ‘private’ conversations, also offering private notifications to keep prying eyes around you looking at your messages.
Whisper Shout is a favourite feature of ours though, allowing you to adjust the size of the text via a slider to simulate whispering (with small text) or shouting (with large text). It allows you to put more emphasis on certain messages and it adds more personality to chats. That, coupled with Snapchat-esque photo doodling and all the other features discussed makes Google Allo an attractive alternative to the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
We also now know, thanks to AndroidPolice, more about the stickers. Allo will have a boat-load of comedy stickers which you'll be able to send to other Allo users. 3 packs will be included with the app, but you can download a further 24 packs.
You'll also be able to send quick voice messages, much like you can now in Whatsapp and iMessage. Animated GIFs have become massively popular recently, and it's no surprise that you'll be able to add them to your Allo conversations.
There's an incognito mode where you can set messages to expire after a time you select. It isn't possible to screenshot these messages either, so as well as Allo messages being encrypted, you'll be able to prevent the recipient from keeping them.
What is Google Duo? | Google Duo features
Duo is Google’s standalone video calling app that looks set to take on Skype and FaceTime. We say standalone video calling app because that’s exactly what it is – there’s no messaging function as you get with Skype, its only purpose is for video chat. It features a simple UI and measures in at a tiny 5MB in size, making it an attractive option for video callers. So what makes it special? There are a number of cool features available, but the key feature of Duo is speed.
In August 2016 Google also confirmed that Duo will soon support audio-only calls - this means Google could look to integrate Duo as the main communication service in future iterations of Android, cutting out the need for traditional cellular calls altogether. All hail Google.
Duo features a feature called Knock Knock, exclusive to Android devices, which shows you a live video of the person video calling you on your lock screen before you even pick up the phone. Once you do answer the call, the video call starts instantly with no black loading screens or lag. The app is incredibly responsive in performance, and we think it’ll be a major selling point of the service.
That’s not all though, as Google claims that Duo will even work with spotty cellular connections, a bane of modern day video calling. How? According to the company, the app can dynamically adjust the video and audio quality to suit whatever kind of connection you’re on, and can maintain the call even when switching from Wi-Fi to cellular and vice versa.
This is down to a lot of technical know-how and while we’re not pretending to be Google engineers, simply put, the company optimised webRTC and connects the calls using QUIC over UDP, providing users with a much faster initial connection that’s also encrypted end-to-end.
Much like Allo, Google Duo works with your mobile phone number instead of a Google account, providing users with a much more natural experience – who wants to call a username or email when you can call a mobile number?
Google Allo and Google Duo UK release date | When will Allo and Duo be released in the UK?
Now you know all about the new video and messaging apps from Google, the question on everybody's lips is “when will Allo and Duo be launching in the UK?”.
Well, Duo is now available globally (where Google services are allowed, at any rate) and at Google I/O we were told that both apps would be coming to iOS and Android "this summer". Those of you with Android smartphones can head to the Allo Google Play Store page to ‘Pre-register’ for the app, but the wait shouldn't be long now - especially given that Google is now promoting it in its new and updated category. Those that pre-register for the app will receive a notification on their smartphone letting them know once the app is available for download.
Update 21 September 2016: Google has confimed via its official blog that Google Allo will be released today. We aren't able to download it from Google Play just yet, but keep checking! You can also pre-register your interest through the Google Play listing.