Google released their new messaging client Allo today, it’s a smarter messaging client than we’ve seen previously incorporating their new Google Assistant into it. Google Assistant will eventually be the smart brain behind your phone, tablet, car and even your home, but for now, the only way to get it is in Allo.
Allo as a chat client is pretty good. It has options for individual one-to-one chat, group chat and you can even start an incognito chat with expiring messages and pictures that will give SnapChat a run for its money on that front. There’s a lot to like about the chat, but it’s important to note that only the incognito mode is encrypted. If you’re into security that’s something you may want to consider.
Allo is centred around your phone number. You invite people to use it with an SMS sent to one of your contacts, so you will need to have a persons phone number to add them.
Each Chat has a heading while you’re in it to remind you of who you’re speaking to, in Group Chats you can hit the Group Chat icon at the top to get details on the group, Mute the group when you have other things on, Add more people, Clear History, Search the chat or get Help from Google Support or supply feedback.
Read receipts are part of each chat, each time you add a comment to the chat, a tick appears beside your comment, which then gets filled in when it’s been read. There doesn’t seem to be an active member listing telling you who is around at any one time, but that’s Ok.
Allo allows a lot of control in chats, if you don’t like something you see, you can delete it, even if you didn’t actually write it. It seems cool, but could be used to censor things, still it could save a few people when you accidentally hit send – we’ve all done that right?!
Getting your point across
Google has put a lot of effort into being able to express yourself in Allo. This starts even with the size of text, through what they call whisper and SHOUT! You can type in a reply in a chat, then slide your finger up or down on the send text button to increase or decrease the ‘Volume’ of what you’re saying, this isn’t just for text either, you can make emoji big or small too. It amuses me, and can show a bit more emphasis in your chat which is normally quite hard to read some times.
Google has also included stickers in Allo. There’s 29 Sticker packs in total and they’re pretty broad in terms of the content. You get three sticker packs pre-installed when you first get Allo up and running, but you can add more as you go.
I`m not totally on-board with stickers, I tend to only use them when having a chat with my son in Telegram thanks to the open ability to add sticker packs of all types created by anyone. This isn’t the case with Allo. Google is working with independent artists to build sticker packs for Allo, they’ll add more, including regionalised ones, but there’s a few great sticker packs like ‘Business Fish’ from Telegram and other services that I’d love to be able to use in Allo and at this stage, I can’t.
Where Google has gone the extra mile with Allo is the ability to draw on photos or screenshots before you send them. I was a big user of Skitch before it was incorporated back in to Evernote but since the whole pricing thing went down, Evernote has lost its shine. Allo and the ability to draw on screenshots is one of the best things about their photo sharing in my opinion.
Where Google has also gotten it ‘right’ is the inclusion of Smart Replies in your chats. If you’re a user of Google’s Inbox, then you’ll be familiar with this, if not, Smart Replies are canned responses that Google gives you that should in theory offer an intelligent response to an email – or in the case of Allo – a chat. Smart Replies seem to be really good already in Allo, Google hasn’t said if they’ve incorporated the Smart Reply intelligence I’ve built using them in Inbox but it sure seems like it. Google has also said that like Inbox, the more you use Smart Replies, the better they will get.
Of course, Nougat customers get that extra little bit of smart sauce with Smart Replies in your notification pane so you don’t even have to open Allo to respond, you can just use one of those canned replies.
I freaking love it. Google Assistant is what I’ve wanted since I first saw Google Now. Google got so much right with Google Now, but failed to go that extra step to provide a full service assistant. Google has obviously re-thought this strategy and are going ahead full steam ahead, this includes building a physical body for Google Assistant in Google Home which we’ll see some time this year (Fingers crossed for October 4th).
Google Assistant will respond to your queries in an individual or group chat to enrich it by fetching information for you from the web. Address Google by saying ‘@google’ followed by your query and Google will start responding. At the moment, Google Assistant has been released as a ‘Preview Edition’ so it’s not quite fully baked and there’s times when this is evident like when you say try to book a restaurant.
As well as being brought into Chats, Google Assistant also has its own chat going with you. You can engage it in basic conversation and it’s here that you’ll get it to do all the ‘assistanty’ things you’ve always wanted like getting sports scores, getting the news, or doing all the things you’ve been doing with ‘Ok Google’ commands for a while now like setting alarms or timers, checking your calendar for you and even retrieving photos or emails if you want it to.
Google Assistant will respond to commands in the private chat you have with it from typing, or you can hit the microphone and talk to it – and the voice to text function works really well as we’ve now come to expect from Google.
There is however no support for the Australian colloquialisms in Google Assistant as yet. We’ve given that feedback to Google and well, they did give us an Australian voice and more for Android so there’s hope, and after all Google Assistant is very much a learning engine.
Google Assistant also can be a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of fun throwing stuff at the Assistant to see it’s responses – but you can ask it things like ‘Tell me a Joke’, or ‘Sing me a song’ and it has a bit of personality like a ‘Favourite colour’.
The natural language search of Google Search is also present, you can ask it to tell you ‘Who is the prime minister of Australia?’, and then follow that up with a ‘and how tall is he’ with Google making that leap forward to string those searches together – if it can’t find the information for you it will even just do a web search. This can also be used with the Google Assistant side of things with searches for things like hotels, ‘Find me a hotel in Sydney’ and then narrow that by ‘under $200 per night’.
There’s certainly a lot of work to do with the Google Assistant in Allo, and from the sounds of the plans in the back end for it, Google is going to work hard. The failures for things like booking a restaurant, not quite knowing the correct way to ask for things like a movie time near you are quirks that need to be worked out, but this is Google so I have every confidence they will.
Should you install it?
Google has got a lot of work to do with getting people to quit their entrenched messaging systems like Telegram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and even their own Hangouts client. The primary reason is that they are late to the game and they need to offer users a lot more than any of these current services offer. They also need multi-device support and a desktop client. But this is Google, it’s a mobile first world at the moment, so with Allo, it’s one device and only on mobile – but I hope that’s only for now.
Allo as a chat client is good, it’s interesting, but it doesn’t really offer much over other services, so it’s Google Assistant that will have to be the deciding factor.
Chat isn’t anything breathtaking, but Assistant, oh Assistant has got the potential to be great. If Google can get Assistant up and going, working with the power of their natural language processing, their great search skills and ability to parse all your information from your Google account into one place, then Google Assistant will be wonderful, and could just offer that extra ‘bit’ to entice users away from other platforms.
I highly recommend actually giving Allo a go before you chime in with ‘No SMS Support? Dead to me.’, ‘It’s not multi-device’, ‘Needs a desktop client’ or any other excuse. Really look at what it is, what it can offer and think about the potential for where it can go.
Allo will be rolling out over the next few days, so head over to Google Play and pre-register to be notified when it’s available for you to download.