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Google Ups Its Messaging Game

I just spent more time then I could really afford watching the gifs, video clips, and images Google put together to demonstrate the capabilities of the trio of messaging, video chat, and small group collaboration apps it unveiled this week around its annual developer conference, Google I/O. These kinds of apps do have the habit of pulling you in and making you want to use them... at least until the cool and clever become the rote and routine.

Not that Google hasn't already been a player in the market, but this trio makes it a potentially bigger force in the consumer communications and collaboration game. That's certainly the point, of course, as it can't let its fellow digital elites like Apple and Facebook have all the fun.

Google will likely garner a lot of attention for these new apps from consumers, its intended targets -- i.e., don't expect to find these as part of Google Apps for Work. But as we all well know, business users will glom on to what's easily accessible and fun to use, whether or not they meet enterprise IT mandates around factors such as compliance, security, and scalability (for related article, see "Mobile Messaging, the Enterprise Way"). As widely reported, the new Google apps are as follows.

Allo - A "Smart" Messaging App
Allo can make conversations "easier and more expressive," Google said in introducing this mobile messaging app.

By "smart," Google means integrated machine learning that follows that back-and-forth between users and offers up a sampling of conversational prods they can click on and send rather than typing in their own responses. Here's how the technology, called Smart Reply works, as described in a Google blog post announcing the apps:

"Smart Reply learns over time and will show suggestions that are in your style. For example, it will learn whether you're more of a 'haha' vs. 'lol' kind of person. The more you use Allo the more 'you' the suggestions will become. Smart Reply also works with photos, providing intelligent suggestions related to the content of the photo."

Being "smart" also means Allo uses Google assistant, also announced at Google I/O and discussed in the above-mentioned blog, to help folks make things happen. For example, you might call on Google assistant to help track down information during a text chat. The beauty here is that you don't have to leave Allo to get at what you need -- assistant brings Google's Search, Maps, YouTube, and Translate apps to the messaging stream.

As described by the Googlers in the announcement, assistant "understands your world, so you can ask for things like your agenda for the day, details of your flight and hotel, or photos from your last trip. And since it understands natural language patterns, you can just chat like yourself and it'll understand what you're saying. For example, 'Is my flight delayed?' will return information about your flight status."

By "easy," Google means that Allo is based on your phone number rather than your Gmail or other Google identity, so you can send a text to anybody on your phone list. And, it incorporates the incognito mode of Chrome for privacy and security. When in incognito mode, Allo uses end-to-end encryption and discreet notifications, the bloggers wrote.

Lastly, by "expressive," Google means Allo isn't just about plunking away at the keys, but rather livening up your messages with emojis, stickers, and Whisper Shout (which supersizes font size) and allowing you to ink on top of photos.

Duo - A Video Calling App
Like Allo, Duo is based on your phone number, which means you can launch a one-to-one video chat with any Tom, Dick, or Harry... if you have their phone numbers, of course. Note, the person you're calling does not need to be using an Android device, so this differs from Apple FaceTime capabilities.

In their write-up, the Googlers point outed out Duo's "Knock Knock" feature, which shows a live video preview of the caller before you pick up, as one of their favorite things. "Knock Knock invites you into the moment, making calls feel spontaneous and fun," they wrote. Upon answering, "Duo seamlessly transitions you right into the call."

On the techie side, Duo uses high-definition video (up to 720p) and audio, is optimized to adjust call quality across spotty networks, seamlessly transitions calls between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, and encrypts calls end to end, the bloggers wrote. What they didn't talk about is WebRTC -- but, as WebRTC consultant Tsahi Levent-Levi pointed out in his BlogGeek.Me blog, "Duo IS WebRTC. Or at least what you can do with it." -- meaning, this isn't "pure" WebRTC.

"Duo is [a] mobile only (for now), closed app, running on Android and iOS. ... No web browser. No complaints about unsupportive Safari or IE browsers. And from Google," he continued. "To those who decide to skip WebRTC just because it doesn't run on IE or [is] not supported by Safari (without really understanding what WebRTC means) -- this should be the best wake up call. Coming directly from Google, the company who wants everything running in the browser."

Levent-Levi, rightly so, questioned why Google didn't do all this in Hangouts, and speculated that the future of Hangouts is in the enterprise rather than the consumer. "With Allo and Duo," he wrote, "why should consumers even care about Hangouts from now on?"

Spaces - A Tool for Collaborating in Small Groups
Taking a page from HipChat, Slack, and the like, Google has opened the doors on a persistent place Gmail users can gather and collaborate online. Sharing the news in a pre-Google I/O blog, Google said Spaces is immediately available on Android, iOS, desktop, and mobile Web for all Gmail addresses.

Users can create topical spaces and send invites via their channels of choice -- messaging, email, a social network, and so on. And, because this is Google we're talking about here, Search, YouTube, and Chrome come built in with Spaces to ease the burden of finding and sharing articles, videos, and images amid all the conversation.

As I mentioned, these new apps contain some captivating functionality -- not necessarily the stuff that makes for enterprise-grade tools, but interesting nonetheless. So now, I wonder, what's in store relative to all this for Google Apps for Work?

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