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Google Allo launches this week, falling short of expectations

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Allo, Google’s highly anticipated messaging app, launched this week for Android and iOS devices. The reception has been split down the middle, to put it lightly. There are already plenty of apps in the messenger ecosystem available on mobile devices, and the addition of Allo does not really make anyone’s life any easier.

In order to muscle in on WhatsApp and existing Facebook Messenger, Google’s own Hangouts, iMessage, and others, Allo really needed to offer something special to increase its adoption rate. Does it succeed in that regard? As of now, no it doesn’t. Granted, Allo only launched yesterday, so what we’re currently using is essentially Allo 1.0. There’s no doubt in my mind that Allo will grow with future updates, but at this particular moment in time I don’t see myself ditching the other messaging apps in favor of Google Allo.

Here is a quick timeline of my first day with Allo:

I woke up and downloaded Allo, and was very excited to try it out. I set up Allo with my phone number, which is the only option at this point, and I tested out Google Assistant first. I was thoroughly impressed with how well Assistant works, but I wish that it came as a separate app/widget.

I then sent a message to my wife, who then got a notification to install Allo. Google displayed my message underneath this prompt, and it had an option to respond. My wife didn’t answer, that’s because it doesn’t display my name, in the prompt. Instead, Google opted for a 5 digit identification number and  my wife thought it was spam.

I convinced my wife that it was me. and she responded at long last. I received the response via the Allo app, but she retains no record of that conversation ever taking place. I message her again and she got another prompt to download Allo, only angerting her with my spam prompts to download the software.

After a lot of questions from my wife, she finally downloaded the app. Her first question was probably the same as everyone’s at this point,  “Why would I need another messaging app?”

Later that evening we were going to see Bridget Jones’ Baby together, so I used Google Assistant to send her showtimes within our conversation thread. We were impressed with Allo’s ability to pull pertinent information and display it without leaving the conversation, in this case showtimes and tickets.

I then tested the app with a friend that uses iOS, she got the same prompt to download Allo and she was impressed that you can still respond regardless of whether you download the app or not. That being said, she did not download the app.

When testing with an iOS friend on their iPad, we found that you can’t do it. You need to connect a phone-number to the account, so there is no ‘iPad only’ option at this point.

In the end I answered the same questions over and over from other friends. Mostly, “Can you SMS with Allo?” The answer is no, and I have to explain how Allo uses a pseudo-SMS to reply to people without the app.

Finally, was asked by a friend if we could video chat with Allo “like what iMessage does with Facetime.” I direct her to download Google Duo, which was met with “Uh, no thanks. I’ll stick with iMessage.”

I did not touch Allo again for the remainder of the day, except one time to make Assistant tell me a joke.

So there is my first day with Allo. It seems like a mess, doesn’t it? In many ways, it seems like a mess because as of right now, it IS a mess.

Google now offers Hangouts (SMS, Hangouts messages, video chats, and Google Voice integration), Messenger (Google’s SMS app), and Allo (its own thing separate from Messenger and Hangouts). It’s a bit much, isn’t it? I’m not certain what Google intends to do with so many messaging apps available, but as of now, I have Allo installed purely as a novelty…one that will likely soon wear off.

Overall the lack of SMS within Allo is a big oversight for users in the United States. I understand the rest of the world has essentially ditched SMS and made WhatsApp it’s king, but international users have no reason to switch to Allo at this point since it offer fewer features. The app already has a smaller install base than WhatsApp, so you will probably be convincing others to download it like I had to.

SMS may very well be dying a slow death, but here in the States, it’s still going strong. Not having SMS support is a big turnoff at this point. While Allo doesn’t use full SMS integration, I can appreciate its effort in using a pseudo-SMS type relay to get messages to folks who don’t have Allo installed. I may not be able to send a text to my friend via Allo, but if I try, they at least get a notification that I sent something to them, and they can respond. What no one seems to appreciate is the constant hounding to download Allo.

Having Duo, Google’s video messaging app, as a separate entity from Allo is also a huge bummer. iMessage can do its thing and Facetime all in one; why can’t Allo? I mean jeez, even Hangouts can do both without the need to download two separate apps. Work smarter, not harder, Google. Google Assistant is awesome, yes it’s not perfect, but it is awesome. I like that you can have Assistant as a separate chat thread on its own, and I absolutely love that you can integrate it into any existing chat thread at anytime just by using @google in the text field.

Personality-wise, Assistant is quirky, much like Siri. This makes it more fun to use, and it uses the power of Google so it kind of has it all. It has a quirky personality and a massive search engine behind it, a great pairing. Integrating the Assistant into existing chat threads was a great move for Google, I only wish that I could integrate it into the rest of my phone like Google Now.

Allo looks really nice, with a very clean UI. Overall it’s much cleaner looking and more colorful than Google Hangouts., but it’s lacking some personalization options in terms of color choices and other factors. That’s not really a dealbreaker for me, and I don’t think it would be for too many users. I like that it has stickers and you can send GIFs and all the other jazz that we have come to expect from our messaging apps.

I did like the quirkiness of Assistant that I spoke about before, and I’m glad to see Google embrace a bit of fun.

Since Allo only works with a phone number tied to the account, those on tablets and those wanting a desktop client are currently left high and dry. As I mentioned before, I have a friend who only uses an iPad; she doesn’t own a phone. She can’t enjoy Allo at the moment because obviously there is no phone number associated with her iPad.

Allo has a ton of potential, but I fear Google may have pushed it to the masses a bit too soon. It feels unfinished, and is lacking a ton of features that would make it a more viable contender in the land of WhatsApp and SMS apps. As of now, since it’s my only means of using Google Assistant, I am keeping it more as a novelty. I hope, however, that in the near future after a few updates, Allo can start integrating some more features that allow it to be more of an “all-in-one” messaging client. Google doesn’t need to launch future phones with Messenger, Allo, Duo, and Hangouts as options; it needs to get rid of all that and combine Allo, Duo, and SMS into one standard for all future releases.

You can find more information and links to the iOS and Android store on the Google Allo page at allo.google.com.