It’s been a rough week or so to be invested in a Google messaging service, hell it’s been a rough decade to be invested in a Google messaging service. The latest victims are Allo, which will be going away in March of 2019, and “Hangouts Classic” which has a more nebulous end of life forecast.
These products join the host of other Google messaging casualties over the years, Google Wave, Google+ Huddles, Google+ Hangouts, Google Spaces, to name a few. Now if this left us with an entirely clear picture of Google’s messaging strategy going forward that would be something, but the reality is that the company still has 5 such apps with at least some overlapping functionality.
The 5 survivors are Duo (Video), Messages (Text), Hangouts Chat (Enterprise Text), Hangouts Meet (Enterprise Video), and Google Voice (Voice and Text). Why am I including two enterprise-focused products in a discussion about consumer messaging? Because the head of those products, Scott Johnston, indicated that “Hangouts (Classic) users will be migrated to Chat and Meet.” This was corroborated by an official blog post from Google’s VP of Consumer Communications Products, Matt Klainer, who similarly put no definite timeline on this migration.
This is a problem that Google themselves seemed ready to settle once and for all almost exactly 2 and a half years ago when they announced Allo and Duo at Google I/O 2016, this was going to be the two-pronged answer to messaging on Android. But it became clear reasonably quickly that Allo wasn’t going to hold up its end of the bargain, it saw limited adoption and within two years of launch, Google has now admitted that it shifted resources away from Allo and instead was focused on bringing the relevant features into Messages.
Ok, so Messages and Duo it is, while there is plenty to hate about iMessage the basic premise of here is your text-based chat app and here is your video-based chat app on iOS does make things pretty clean. But Messages itself is embroiled in a bit of a mess with the Rich Communication Services (RCS) backend requiring adoption from OEMs and carriers to deliver its full experience. At the moment they are “over 40 carriers and device makers” bringing the total number of active Messages users per month up to 175 million, but as compared to the total number of Android devices being used per month that’s a relatively small number and makes for a fractured experience across the platform.
Lest I go down a path of complete frustration let’s take a moment to look at Duo, which to a significant degree has achieved its goals on the video side with not just Android adoption but wide support coming in the last year as it spread to Chromebooks, Smart Displays, and even iOS. Duo isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done and has been steadily improving, why Google is muddying the waters on this one with any talk of Hangouts Meet coming into the consumer space seems baffling. Take the win here Google, you have a video chat product that is working just do a better job of highlighting it and bringing more people on board and let it build.
In the end, I’m left not feeling supremely confident that Google is going to find it’s way cleanly out of its messaging woes anytime soon as even in their considered statement seeking to clarify the path going forward they are unable to provide a clear answer for what messaging is going to look like for its consumers even a year from now. Some of this is simply an issue of branding, another area that has tripped Google up repeatedly, but for the sake of its users, Google needs to pick a winner for text and video messaging and just run with it and incorporate features from the enterprise side as needed. It’s difficult enough to get users and groups to switch messaging platforms and Google has already established a reputation for killing them off, they can ill afford to do it again at this point.