Google has released its new messaging app, Allo. Adding Allo to Duo, the Google I/O is complete: Google Duo offers video chats, and Google Allo is for text-based communication. The installation of Google Allo is not currently possible in the Google Play Store – you can pre-register yourself there, for when it is available. Exactly why Google has not yet activated the download there for those who are interested remains a mystery. After all, there’s already an installation file on the APK Mirror portal. Allo is also available for iOS.
After installation, you must specify your mobile number, which also serves as your user name. Allo asks you to take a selfie to use as your profile photo, and then you are all set to go. Additionally, Allo automatically links with your Google profile, which is necessary for the Google Assistant to function properly. If you want, you can go into settings and disconnect it from your Google account.
After launching the app, a first contact is available to you: the Google Assistant, shown to you as a preview. Here, you can get answers to your questions, help finding restaurants, or even translations. You can speak to the Assistant in a one-on-one chat, or incorporate information into another chat simply by typing “@google” at the beginning of your message.
In addition, you have more contacts to chat with: you’ll see not only Allo users, but also Google Hangouts users (at least, if they’ve given you their mobile number). You can send messages to these contacts. Hangouts users will see a window that prompts them to install Allo, but they can also just respond. This view is rather less suitable for chats, however.
Google Allo: Chats, Incognito Chats, and Automatic Responses
The basis of all functions is, of course, the classic chats. Group conversations are also possible. You can send voice messages. Additionally, Google had artists create lots of stickers with a variety of messages and moods.
Automatic responses are available for English-language conversations – Allo gives you suggestions for appropriate responses – such as “Haha”, “Awesome” and so on. This allows for quick reactions, but it does not replace actual interaction.
Incognito Chats Are Unlike the Regular Chats in Allo
End-to-end encryption. Google cannot see what you are discussing on its servers. If you want, it’s possible for you to set an expiration time for your messages – from five seconds, to up to a week (or you can turn off the timer and allow messages to be displayed indefinitely). You cannot access the Google Assistant in an incognito chat.
Google Allo Offers the Google Assistant
The Google Assistant is the centerpiece of Allo. The Assistant functions require connection with a Google account, which is automatically activated by Allo. In the “My Activity” display of your Google account, you can see what information is stored there – it’s where you will find almost all of the questions you have asked the Google Assistant. This is not surprising, given the function of the Assistant, but you should be aware of it.
There are two ways to access the Assistant. You can use the Assistant via a private chat room. There, you can ask the Assistant what you want, and it will answer you as best as it can. If you ask it a question, you will typically get a standard Google search result, which can sometimes be enough. Allo and the Assistant are not very good at understanding spoken commands.
It is still unclear whether this chat-based access makes more sense than access on the classic Google app: the UI concept does not convince me, anyway. And the Assistant is currently not powerful enough as a chatbot.
Alternatively, the Google Assistant can contribute information in chats. You simply type “@google” and select the Google Assistant as a receiver, then add your question. From burger restaurants to recent movies: the information is quickly integrated into the conversation and all participants can see the responses by the Assistant. Some things are fun to do, but we still have not found the big “use-case.” Of course, this is probably because the Google Assistant is currently only a preview, and has yet to show its full potential.
Even if you remove the connection to your Google account, the Assistant is still present. However, it will no longer be able to find information about your appointments or similar items – at least in our test that didn’t really work.
This will not appeal to everyone, but it is the reality. On my first day with Allo, I received no further contacts except some colleagues from AndroidPIT. It seems pretty unlikely that this will change, even when the app is soon rolled out in the Play Store. We saw the same thing with Duo: some tech-interested contacts appeared, but no one from my wider circle of friends joined Duo. I suspect it will not be different with Allo. The reason: I see no killer feature in Allo.
Why the Google Assistant functions were not simply integrated into an updated Hangouts platform is utterly baffling. It’s also strange that contacts from Hangouts are only half-heartedly integrated into Allo – you can send them a message, and then Allo prompts your Hangouts contacts to install it.
The Limitations of Google Allo
As previously mentioned, Allo is limited to one smartphone. Anyone who changes their smartphone must re-enable the account. When you do this, you will lose the chat history on the old phone without warning – apparently a backup in the cloud does not exist. You even have to set up a new profile picture. Group chats appear, but they are empty. If you restore Allo on the old phone, the chat history reappears.
A First Verdict on Google Allo
Allo has some interesting functions. As a messenger, it doesn’t really bring anything new – the integrated Google Assistant features are nice, but rarely add value. I’ve looked many times through different chats and a variety of messages – I have not discovered a single situation in which such features provided an essential added value. You won’t find it as a top choice for chats – most users will probably choose WhatsApp and Facebook.
Pretty stickers and functioning chats are not sufficient to hold a candle to WhatsApp or other widespread messengers. The preview version of Assistant will probably not be enough to attract many users.
We’ll keep testing Allo, enjoying the stickers and asking ourselves: Why did Google develop this messenger? Will you, too? Which function interests you most? Let us know in the comments!