Google introduced us to its version of the future of communication at the I/O 2016 developer conference in May in the form of Allo: an evolved Hangouts using the Google Assistant AI to basically make life and instant messaging a deeper experience and Google Duo, the independent video calling tool. Google separated Hangouts’ two main features and polished it up. This doesn’t mean Hangouts will be gone for good. Google will be pivoting it enterprise use. I use Hangouts a lot but would love to move to Allo and Duo separately if they deliver on the promise of a much better experience. Google Duo has officially launched today and you can pre-register for it here, as it progressively rolls out to global markets.
Video calling today
For decades we’ve seen sci-fi movies promise a future where voice calling becomes obsolete and everyone only video calls. The lack of this today is hardly because the tech doesn’t exist; it just hasn’t become the norm for a variety of reasons. Skype and FaceTime made video calling extremely popular but there’s definitely space for someone like Google to make video calling more universal and the experience much much better. The main hindrance currently is FaceTime users can only communicate with other Apple users and being in the UAE, you can’t even do that (legally). Skype is mainly used in professional circles and by people that have the need to video call rather than it being an impulse use. I’ve used Google Hangouts for video calling several times but it could be a much better experience and that’s what I’m expecting out of Google Duo.
Google Duo will be completely cross-platform and extremely easy to use. You don’t even need a Google login to get started. Just sign up using your phone number; truly and completely universal. Duo aims to emphasise one-on-one conversations so you can’t conference call and if you notice the UI in Google’s promotional video, you see very few visible features or buttons. The emphasis is on pure conversation without any additional bells and whistles. Thanks to Google’s sights on emerging markets through Android One, its vision for Duo is not only feasible for high and mid-range devices but can also work seamlessly on all kinds of phones, regardless of how good the internet connection is. On 2G connections for example, the video will drop down but the audio will continue. This helps in places like India where 3G is widespread but connection dropping to 2G is still a big issue.
Ease of use
Apps don’t get much simpler to use than Duo. You see what your front camera sees and on the left are circles indicating your most recent calls and your phonebook. Since Duo is tied to your phone number, you’ll see your entire contact list and you can initiate calls immediately with whoever has Duo. For your contacts who don’t, you can easily send them an SMS with an invitation link through the app. A fun feature that Google has incorporated is called Knock Knock, available for only Android devices. When someone calls you, a preview of the caller’s video feed on the other end shows up on your screen, it encourages callers to put on a smile or wave or make a funny face in order to draw you into the call. Of course, this has a variety of unpleasant possibilities as well. That’s why you can switch off the feature, and it only works with existing contacts.
Google Duo looks and sounds great on paper and we can’t wait for it be available in the region so we can try it out and hopefully make video calling as normal as voice calling and text messaging is in our daily lives.