Allo. Allo. Allo. What's all this then?

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

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During Google’s developer conference (IO 2016) this year, they introduced two new apps for messaging. Duo (for one to one video calls) has already been released and downloaded over 10 millions times. For those that have been waiting for the second app, called Allo, the wait is finally over.

The roll out is coming in stages. By the time you read this, it should be available everywhere, although right now I am still waiting. So what exactly is Allo and what does it do?

Allo is a messaging app. Messaging apps are two a penny these days, so what makes Allo different to the rest? One of the big differences you will find is artificial intelligence. It comes in various shapes and sizes in Allo. For instance, Smart Reply will suggest responses to messages you receive. It does this by learning from you or rather the things you write in response to messages and photos. It’s essentially a time saver.

Allo also comes with the preview edition (at the moment) of Google Assistant. You can ask it things and it will do stuff. In fact, you can have whole conversations with Google Assistant if you really want. The point is, it all happens from within the conversations you are having with your friends. So you could ask it to share a video for you, or find a recipe and it will do it.

There are some other nice little touches which don’t involve AI. Ink allows you to doodle or add text to pictures you want to share with people.

Allo will also allow you to change the text size with a simple swipe, so you no longer need to type in ALL CAPS to indicate shouting. You can even make the text smaller to show that you are whispering. Now this may seem like a silly feature, but when you consider that meaning is often lost or misinterpreted when using plain text, anything that improves upon that and makes up for the lack of body language has got to be a good thing.

Lastly there is incognito mode, which switches your conversation to use end to end encryption. You have the option to set an expiry on messages, so they don’t stick around for ever and notifications are private too. This is good, especially if you want to talk about something sensitive and are using public WiFi.

Apparently you can start chats using Allo via SMS for those that aren’t using Allo. The implementation sounds a bit clunky though, as the number the text comes from is a generic one unrelated to your actual phone number.

Another small criticism I have and this goes for Duo as well, is that while it is great that these apps are cross platform (available on Android and iOS), it really is let down by the fact that there is no web app version of either. I use Google Hangouts a lot, which lets me carry on the conversation regardless of the computing device I am using. I can use it on my phone, my desktop and my laptop. If they can fix that for Allo and Duo, I think the new apps will be a lot more useful.

Alan Stainer

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