Allo? Is anybody there? It has been a pretty lonely week for me trying out Google’s Allo, which just launched today, Despite not having many users (Google shared only a handful of review invites — one for every publication), Allo has managed to impress me with its smarts. Allo is Google’s take on what a smart communication app should be about. I have been using Allo for almost a week now and here are my first impressions. Also Read - Google Play Store announces blanket ban on Sugar Daddy apps over sexual contentAlso Read - Google, Facebook make vaccination mandatory for employees returning to office
The thing about messaging apps is it doesn’t matter how many cool features are available. Instead, it is all about where the users are and you would still end up using the service where your friends, family and everyone else that you talk to are present. That’s the only reason why WhatsApp has remained so popular, despite not having many cool features like stickers, pokes and what not. It was one of the first off the block, simple messaging service for the mobile-first era and it continues to dominate the space. Also Read - Fake Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) Lite APK links going viral on the internet: How to spot them
And that is going to be a big challenge for Google, like any other player trying to gain foothold in the mobile messaging space. With Allo, Google is looking to provide a frictionless messaging experience. All you need is your mobile number on which it sends a verification code and click a selfie to set as your profile photo. You don’t need to have a Google account to set up Allo.
You can start a chat with anyone else in your contacts who also is on Allo or start a chat with Google Assistant, which is almost like having a conversation with Siri but over text messages, which is exactly what I ended up doing mostly during the pre-launch test period. You can play games, ask trivia, get information, or even ask Google Assistant to send you periodic information — like weather updates, news and so on. But it also takes the role of a real assistant within conversations and that, in my books is what makes Allo special.
Imagine this, you are having a conversation with someone about catching up and that person suggests a restaurant. Rather than having to go to Google or Zomato to check the restaurant, an assistant automatically prompts you with a link to the restaurant, which you can quickly open and check out. Well, this is not a simulation and Google Assistant did exactly that during one of my conversations. It is simply brilliant.
There are other things that Google Assistant can do, like prompt you with smart replies that you can simply click and send across. But it is quite mechanical right now and you can mostly figure out whether it was a smart reply or not. But Google says it would get better over time as it learns how you type and respond to messages. Well, if Google and others working on machine learning have their way, soon it would be bots chatting on our behalf.
Then there are the usual sticker packs and Google has partnered with some local Indian artists to have India-specific stickers. These are pretty neat and could add color to your conversations but that’s something almost every messenger app apart from WhatsApp (irony alert) has. You can either whisper (smaller text font size) or shout (larger text font size) by sliding up and down on the send button. You can scribble on photos (only on Android right now and coming to iOS soon) and do a bunch of other regular stuff too.
Then there is the big question about privacy, which in this case, I feel is overblown. In Allo, regular chats are not end-to-end encrypted for Google Assistant to function. End-to-end encryption means that no one else apart from sender or receiver can read the content, which is encrypted and decrypted directly on the device. For Google Assistant to work, it needs to be able to read your chats. If that spooks you out, there is an incognito mode that’s end-to-end encrypted and where you can even set a timer for when the message should be deleted. But you won’t be able to use Google Assistant then, which in my opinion, defeats the entire purpose of using Allo.
It is too early to say whether Allo will be able to gain any traction. My test user group was full of tech savvy people who are early adopters and are itching to take a go at every new app or service. The million dollar question is whether Google can excite regular users to download a new messaging app and use it. And that is something no journalist can predict. I would say it is certainly worth using and you will be blown off with what the Google Assistant can do.