Google would like us to think of its messaging strategy as a work in progress. What it’s progressing towards, I don’t know. Amongst all the changes, additions, mergers, and rebranding its series of messaging apps have gone through over the past few years, Google has done little to simplify or streamline its strategy. And with the latest moves, we may have fewer apps than ever, but the message has never been more muddled.

In a blog post Wednesday night, Google confirmed rumors that classic Hangouts and Allo are going away, which comes as no surprise. Google already announced that Hangouts would be splitting into two new apps, Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, and Allo has been “on pause” since April as Google re-evaluated the purpose of the two-year-old app. But with less comes more confusion. Eight months later, we have a new Allo-less strategy that’s no clearer than it was when the app launched in 2016.

Got the message?

The reality of it is that Allo was pretty much doomed from the start. It’s not that it was a bad app or even a bad concept, but the majority of Android users either didn’t know or didn’t care that it existed. Even if it hadn’t been a superfluous addition to the many default Android messaging apps, a raft of privacy issues, confusion, compatibility, and usability issues kept it from becoming all it could be. However, it’s not all for naught. Google has gradually been working most of Allo’s best features into Android Messages, so the spirit of of the service is still alive.

google messaging appsGreenbot

Allo was once going to be the centerpiece of Google’s messaging strategy.

While Allo’s demise—officially set for March 2019—has been relatively quick, Hangouts has gone through more iterations than I can list here. What started as a smart combination of Google Voice and Google+’s messaging ambitions, Hangouts was supposed to be the ultimate place to, well, hang out. Like iMessage, Hangouts used a proprietary protocol to allow non-SMS instant messaging, and over countless updates, it added and/or removed various features, including group video chats, voice calls, broadcasts, and texts.

If you don’t understand or remember any of that, don’t worry, it’s pretty much all going away. Google new strategy consists of just four apps now:

  • Messages
  • Duo
  • Hangouts Meet
  • Hangouts Chat

But what’s supposed to be a move “toward a simpler communications experience” is anything but. Here’s how the new lineup breaks down now:

Messages is basically the new Allo (read: stickers and GIFs) without the Google Assistant integration and instant messaging capabilities, a.k.a. the two features that actually made Allo worth using. Duo is for one-on-one video calls. Hangouts Meet is also for video calls, but geared at groups and meetings. Hangouts Chat is for Slack-style instant messaging.

google duo announcement


If Duo allows group calls, will Google remame it Quatro?

But wait, there’s more: Chat is also what Google calls the RCS portion of Messages—the protocol that is supposed to deliver iMessage-style non-SMS messaging—but it may or may not work with your carrier or phone. Hangouts Chat can’t send SMS messages. Despite the name, the lead Duo engineer promised group calling earlier this year and dives into the code suggest Google is indeed working on it. And while Hangouts Chat is limited to G Suite business customers at the moment, “at some point” it will be available to former Hangouts users. And of course, classic Hangouts will still work for however long Google feels like supporting it.

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