At Google I/O this year, Google announced they were releasing two new chat apps, one – Allo – would be for chat, while the other – Duo – was specifically aimed at video chat. Duo is the first of the services to be made available to the public, with the app starting to rollout to users today from Google Play (and the Apple app store).
Duo is linked not to your Google account, but your phone number. It’s 1:1 video chat app that operates on Wi-Fi or cellular connections, with a very simple interface. You have a call list populated with your phone contacts and the option to invite someone not using the app – it’s available on Android and iOS – to download it and start using it.
Once you make or receive a call, your recent contacts show up in the bar at the bottom of the app, making for fast access to video chat with your usual contacts.
The killer feature of Duo, apart from the simple interface, is Knock-Knock. Knock-Knock lets you preview who is calling and what they’re doing, by delivering you a live, instant preview from their device – if you don’t like what you see, don’t answer ;). If you do, swipe to accept the call.
The instant feed is thanks to the care Google took when building Duo, using a new video protocol called QUIC. The protocol is built to handle slower networks, including downgrading as low as 2G. Duo will also seamlessly transition from Wi-Fi to cellular data and vice-versa without losing connection.
This use-case is an obvious ploy to get into the hands of users on less than ideal connections – like those ’emerging markets’ that most tech companies are chasing these days, who have limited mobile infrastructure.
In this day and age, security is important and Duo is secure, Google says video chats are encrypted end-to-end. Google also lets you block callers in the settings if you don’t want calls from some users.
After using Duo for the last few days, I can say it’s absolutely simple, and at just over 10MB it’s also a relatively small app to download when on mobile data. The quality of the connection was also impressive with no drops in quality, and an impressively clear video feed.
I’ve been using a number of video conferencing tools for years to call my wife and son, but been less than thrilled with some of the quality of those calls. Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and Skype have been the three I’ve relied on, and both have disappointed for the most part, but Duo was solidly clear – I`m quite impressed.
Skype and Hangouts also have the drawback of being tied to an account, the attraction here is the simple link to a phone number. Facebook Messenger has the distinction of being able to be used with just a phone number, but there’s a resistance to having Facebook Messenger installed.
The final question is ‘Do we need another video calling app?’ I`m going with yes. I do think that this should have been bundled in with Allo to make for an all encompassing video/chat app, but I`m Ok with it if it means I get to use Duo when I next go away. The only downside is the lack of desktop application for Duo, something that could limit adoption.
The key to Duo is that it’s now available. When its playmate Allo will launch isn’t clear, but with the integration of Google Assitant in that app, it could take a little longer. If you want to give it a go, head over to Google Play and pre-register, Google says that the app will be ‘live worldwide in the next few days’.