Google seems to understand that it needs to pare its messenger story down to a few apps that cover everyone's needs (so it's easier for people to ignore them all and use WhatsApp anyway). And, to some extent, that's what is happening, but everything feels so chaotic and is changing before replacements are ready.
Some people use the word confusing to describe Google's strategy here, but no matter what words are used it all still feels rushed — something you would expect from amateurs instead of one of the biggest tech companies in the world. It just feels like Google has gone off the deep end.
I'm going to take responsibility for what every blogger or journalist has done wrong here because some of the confusion is our fault. It's easy (and fun) to write about seemingly random changes and follow with a jab at Google for doing them. But if you break things down you can guess at Google's strategy.
- Hangouts is now a proper enterprise tool. Or at least it will be. Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat sound like, together, a potential Slack replacement for every company that uses Google Docs. Seeing what it will (hopefully) be capable of, I imagine Mobile Nations is going to give it a spin because we are a Google Docs shop.
- Google Talk is dead. It needed to die so the places it lives can be used for Hangouts Chat. Nobody uses the Google Talk app on their phone or tablet, and while having it tied to Gmail is great, having Hangouts Chat there is better for the people who live in Gmail all day. They are the people who will use Hangouts Chat to talk to their demanding boss from Toronto (Ed note: Damnit, Jerry). Or something.
- Allo is Google's app for people who don't want to use SMS. And that is a lot of people. I had hoped Google would use Allo and Duo to provide an iMessage-like experience, but instead, it's the Mountain View version of WhatsApp. It's also a really good app, but nobody wants to use it because WhatsApp has a gazillion more users. Had Google worked things out and brought Allo to us before WhatsApp exploded, things may be different.
- Duo is Google's video calling app. It's a really nice app with a fatal flaw: you can't set up a group call. A lot of work went into making things easy and delivering the best video feed possible for every level of bandwidth, but Hangouts used to let 15 people get together and look at each other. We are not likely to forget that and will complain instead of using Duo, or at least complain while using it. I know I will. Especially when I use Hangouts Meet for work stuff and can't use it for anything else unless I get a Google Apps account or am invited to a Hangout by someone with a Gapps account. WTF, Google?
- Android Messages is one thing Google is doing right. Too bad it depends on your carrier to also do it right, and that will take forever and an act of God because your carrier wants your friends to switch to it rather than make its features available to users on another provider. I wish Google was working on some way for people using Android Messages to have a great IM experience with each other without using SMS to do it. But, technically, they have Allo for that.
- Google Voice has been improved so it's a nicer experience for when you want to send texts from your tablet or use the same number on more than one phone. Unless you use Project Fi. Then you're screwed. Also, why is there no screw emoji? They have "ear of Maize" so it will have to do. 🌽
- Supersonic exists to give us one more thing to wonder about and for Russell Holly to talk to himself and the Supersonic help chat bot.
Now for the big question: How the hell do you make all these changes without pissing everyone off and confusing the hell out of a person who just bought their first Android phone and wants a replacement for iMessage?
You don't. That means you probably should be changing everything all at once.
I won't pretend that I would be a good businessman. I have a hard time deciding what side to get with my steak or what socks to wear. I imagine some really smart people in expensive suits sitting at a giant mahogany table using slides and big words to make these decisions, but then I see them in action and realize it could just as easily be a bunch of folks who tumbled out of a clown car. I have no idea what Google is thinking, and it's kind of hard to assume they have a comprehensive plan.
Google I/O is coming. It would be a great time for someone to explain something. If they do, we'll tell you all about it. And if they don't we'll keep scratching our heads and guessing at what they have planned.
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