Nearly every year, the engineers at Google introduce new communications applications in hopes of transforming the way people use their products. Earlier this summer the company unveiled two new mobile-only communications apps: Allo, an AI-enhanced messaging app, and Duo, a video chat app. They’re designed to serve its consumer audiences; Google’s VP of communication products Nick Fox says that now Google will focus Hangouts on its business users.
Communication is an “essential human need,” according to Fox; that means the medium used to communicate should be tailor-made for target audiences. But as noted in a recent Bloomberg article, Google’s competitors have known this for nearly a decade: apps like FaceTime, Slack, Skype and Messenger maintain high adoption among their users, and most are used for both business and consumer communication.
The Google apps themselves appear to have easy-to-use interfaces: Duo’s video-calling features are fairly straightforward and Allo, which will debut later this summer, incorporates Google’s powerful search capabilities into chat to offer users a richer experience.
But these apps raise an important question: at a time when B2B consumers are behaving more like B2C consumers and using many of the same apps to conduct research and business, should Google enhance existing products or create new ones?
Google and the Lost Apps
It’s much too early to call either app successful – one of them has yet to be launched – but Allo and Duo join a long line of social and communications products that led to mixed results for Google. Wave (“email 2.0”) and Buzz, a social network designed to integrate with other social networks, never found their audiences. Targeting audiences is a critical element of high tech adoption and, to maintain that adoption, products must serve a clear need.
Right now, however, Allo and Duo don’t offer motivation for consumers to stop using apps like FaceTime and Messenger – especially if those apps are already a part of their daily tech stacks. Likewise for B2B users, who increasingly use consumer products to conduct business. Google must offer a compelling reason for B2B users to add new apps to their everyday routines when Hangouts or other non-Google apps already do the job.
Passing the Consolidation Station
At a time when the trend toward consolidation is happening both in business and consumer tech, Google is choosing to diversify its apps – which presents a second potential barrier for users. Whether it’s a consumer who wants to control several devices with a single app, or a marketing professional who needs to gather data from disparate sources and generate content from a single platform, most tech users value the ability to create, log or post just once.
Facebook’s single sign-on for various apps and websites makes it the social channel of choice for consumers, while professionals who use Google Apps appreciate the ease and utility of Hangouts, Drive and other apps that can be used for both business and personal use. Google can count its users as the world’s largest beta testing group; but those users still prefer a seamless experience across apps. Creating mobile-only apps can be a roadblock to users who need to communicate across devices.
Google’s sustained success is partially owed to its ability to anticipate and meet user needs, as well as its mission to push technology to new and more creative uses. Allo and Duo represent the company’s reach, but it may also reveal its grasp: by addressing problems solved years ago by other companies, Google may be setting itself up for yet another misstep.