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Review: Google Needs Allo to Be a Home Run

Google’s new chat app has finally launched. However, it’s just not quite a smash hit… yet

Originally published on Odyssey.com

TLDR: Google unveils a new chat app, bringing together the best of iMessage, Messenger, Slack, and Snapchat. But it’s not quite the home run the Googs need it to be.

Google released Allo to the public on Wednesday, bringing the market the long-anticipated chat app it so desperately needs. Originally announced at Google I/O, Allo was touted as an app with “a smarter way to message.” To their credit, their deliverance is not far from that promise.

The History of Allo

Back in May, during Google’s annual developer conference, the company announced a few new products and apps, including Allo. It has only been out to the general public for a day so it’s too early to call Allo a success or a failure, however as unique as this idea is, this isn’t the first time Google has swung the bat at a messaging client, only to have it flop. After launching (or rather, re-launching) Google Hangouts 3 years ago (only to have it wither away), Google aimed to take center stage at messaging clients, but lost to other platforms such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.

Google Giveth…

Artificial Intelligence at the core

At its core, the app utilizes Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) for almost everything it does. Built into Allo is a preview version of the Google Assistant, which is the interface to Google’s artificial intelligence. With Smart Replies, you can quickly reply to messages with preset replies that consistently changes with the conversation. This is much how Google’s Inbox applications works for Gmail. After the AI reads the conversation, it suggests responses it deems adequate and unless you’re a privacy-conscious person, it isn’t so bad. To chat directly with the AI (“bot” for short), users simply type “@google,” and can proceed with natural language questions or requests. Interacting with the bot is fun for the short term, but isn’t as useful as Siri in iOS 10, yet.

The love-child of Slack, Facebook, and iMessage

Allo also brings the best of Slack, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage, into one unified platform. Unlike Hangouts, which acts as a standard messaging client, Allo facilitates the opportunity to chat with bots, send stickers, as well as enlarge the message you send. Using incognito mode, users can also send secure messages using end-to-end encryption, which self-destruct after an hour.

…And Google Taketh Away

Despite Allo being a welcome improvement over Hangouts, its core fallacy is simplicity.

For iPhone users, this begins right from the start with registration issues when connected to WiFi. When going through the registration process, iPhone users who are attempting to register their phone number while connected to WiFi will be greeted with a registration error, not allowing them to proceed. Users must disconnect from the WiFi network, force quit the app, then proceed over a cellular connection to successfully complete the registration process, after which, users can then reconnect to the WiFi network.

Why is it impossible to delete messages?

Deleting messages is not simple either. Unlike many email and messaging clients that allow for a simple swipe to the left or right to delete a conversation, users must physically go into a conversation and navigate to the menu to delete the message.

Overall: Enjoyable, But The Success of Allo Remains to be Seen

I have grown to enjoy Allo, and now that it is out for the public, I have convinced my project teams from Google and ACM-W to switch over from Slack. They seem to prefer it because of the use of the Google Assistant. Being college students, we don’t have time to waste on products and software that are (as we call them) “half-baked”

Allo’s viability in the market is dependent on two things: user adoption, and Google’s upkeep. Unlike Hangouts, Google must continue to debut brand new features, squash bugs, and keep users happy, much in the same way Facebook does with Messenger. There is no denying that messaging is at the core of what we do in our daily lives, and if Google is serious about making a stand in the messaging market, they must prove it to their users.

Allo is available as a free download for Android and iOS.

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