Google’s Communication Strategy: Duo + Allo + Hangouts = Confusion

Today I read an article about how great Google’s messaging app Allo is integrating AI. I was curious and realized that I haven’t tried out Allo yet so I gave it a shot. And it was not AI which caught my attention.

In the app I found only one friend in my contacts list — who did not answer.

Obviously, establishling a new communication app is always difficult, due to network effects. If there are no other people also using this app, naturally the value of it is very low — although the app has amazing features.

However, in Google’s case, I think the weak market poistion is mainly caused by a messaging strategy which does not make much sense. There are three major communication products out of Mountain View:

  • Google Allo (Text Messages)
  • Google Duo (Video Chat)
  • Google Hangouts (Messaging + Call)

Besides these, there is also Google Messenger (not sure what it does) and we shouldn’t forget about emails (amazingly served with Google Inbox and Gmail).

Focusing only on Allo, Duo &Hangouts, as a product manager (and user), I don’t understand two core things:

  1. What is the added value of Allo and Duo if there is Hangouts already?
  2. Why does Google split texting and calling into two apps (Allo+ Duo)?

Hangouts vs. Allo+ Duo:

Being curious, I googled for an answer to question one and found this interesting tweet of the Google Product Manager of Duo & Allo:

Apparently, Hangouts is for business clients while Allo& Duo shall serve private consumers. For me, it was quite surprising to see that Hangouts is considered as a business product. I remember when there were actually a lot of my friends using hangouts, especially in the time after it was launched. At that time it solved group calls way better than competing apps. Hence I am not sure this business focus is really clear to many users.

As a side thought, why is Hangouts preinstalled on all Android phones, if it’s not supposed to tackle private consumers?

Going through a few comments which followed on this tweet, I realized I am by far not the only one being irritated about Google’s plan with Hangouts.

By the way, the tweet of the Google PM, explaining which aim those products have and how they are supposed to work reminded me about this great scene in Silcion Valley in which none of the test users is understanding the product whereupon the CEO needs to explain it to them. #ProductDisaster :)

Why Allo AND Duo?

My second doubt regarding Google’s apps is the one, why texting and messaging is split into two apps.

Using Allo today for the first time, I registered by entering my phone number to receive the activation code. Business as usual. However, I was puzzled when I wanted to call my only friend in Allo. Clicking the respective button opens up the other Google app: Google Duo. And guess what, I was asked to register again. I did not. And by the way, what happens if I do sign up but my friend does not? Can’t I call him then? Strange.

I think it’s conceptually wrong to have two apps instead of one.

After all, I am using a communication app, such as Messenger or Whatsapp, to communicate with my friends. The way of communication is a secondary choice, and it is dependent on the situation: Sometimes calling fits better, sometimes texting does. When on a train, I might call a person first, only to change for texting a few minutes later because the internet connection is too weak for calls. When a friend writes me that he does not understand what I just wrote, I will call him to explain it. You get the idea.

The use case for texting and calling is the same: One person wants to communicate with another one.

There are scenarios where splitting apps make sense though. When Facebook detached texing from the newsfeed, by establishing the Messenger next to the Facebook platform it felt a little weird for everyone in the beginning. However, it makes complete sense since the two platforms have different use cases:

  • On Facebook I read the news feed, react to invitations or just generally waste my time by passively browing through profiles. #leisure
  • On Messenger, I am actively communicating with others. Either by calling or texting. #communication

In summary, I think the confusion with Hangouts vs. Duo& Allo is fixable so that users will understand the difference better (business vs. private). But certainly Duo & Allo should be merged into one application in order to possibly threat Whatsapp, WeChat, Line and Messenger. In case Google really considers merging both, a more catchy name than Duo or Alli wouldn’t harm either :).

What are your thoughts on Google’s strategy?