Allo: Google again moves deck chairs on its sinking Titanic in the messaging wars
Yet another messaging app from Google, with little reason to expect it to be a success.
Hey! Google has a new messaging app out today called Allo. Pity I can’t send you a text message about it. Allo can’t handle that, not from my actual number, which is a core failing out of the box. It’s a failing Google can’t afford with yet another messaging app.
The glory that was Google Voice
I am a long-time Google messaging app user. Let me go back to Google Voice, a wonderful program that lets you use one phone number for any phone you have. Free SMS messages. The ability to search all your messages. Messages sent also to Gmail.
Not using Google Voice? That’s because Google barely acknowledges that it exists these days. It stopped development on the Google Voice app ages ago. It sits there like a relic of bygone years. And if you try to use it, Google pushes you to use Google Hangouts.
Google Hangouts, if at first you don’t succeed
Remember Google Hangouts? That was supposed to be Google’s big push to get people messaging the Google way. It has all the features of Google Voice except, you know, the ability to search your messages. Search — Google’s core competency, omitted. In other words, a downgrade. But if you were a Google Voice user, you likely took the downgrade for a better UI plus the ability to get MMS.
Allo? Is it me you’re not likely looking for?
Now we have Allo. It has all the features of Google Hangouts except, um, it won’t send text messages from your number. Yes, it will send messages via SMS. But your actual number won’t be used. Instead, a short code will be. And those who get it can’t reply back from their actual number.
Why does this matter? Allo is trying to push aside existing messaging apps that are out there. If you’re using one of those for text messaging, and thinking of trying Allo, you might want to use both side-by-side. Allo prevents this.
Consider the situation with me and my wife. I loaded up Allo and sent a text to her number. Allo even told me it was going to her number. And, she received it on her iPhone in the Apple Messages app. But she received it not from my number but instead from a short code associated only with my Allo account. When she replied to it, it went back only to my Allo account.
In a perfect Google world, this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d both get Allo and live in a beautiful Allo world. But it’s not like we don’t have other contacts out there who aren’t going to use Allo. So now, we have to use two messaging apps: Allo and something else for the Allo refuseniks.
Does anyone think that’s going to happen much? Sure, there’s a chance — as with Facebook pushing Messenger, where because so many people had Facebook accounts already with contacts, that was pretty fully formed with a social cloud. But Allo? This is starting from scratch.
A choice too far?
Go back to the last attempt, Google Hangouts. There, you could SMS from your own number and people would reply back to your number. It meant you could use Hangouts and another messaging app. You could get comfortable with Hangouts and let go of your other app when you wanted.
Not so with Allo. It separates up your contacts, a tough commitment to make with a new messaging app.
The main sweetener here is Google Assistant, which promises to do amazing things to make your life easier. In my testing so far, some of those things are just as easily done doing regular Google searches. Some indeed show promise — but don’t really require being in a messaging app to deliver.
Google Assistant is coming to other apps, so if Allo fails, that doesn’t mean the end of it. And maybe Google Assistant will work as the bot-don’t-call-it-a-bot for Google in the way that Facebook is banking on bots making its messaging app an even bigger force to reckon with.
We will see. My money for success would instead have been on launching Google Assistant on its own, or at the very least, bundling it within Google Hangouts.