Allo used phone numbers for identifying users and didn’t require emails or social media accounts. It introduced several additions to the world of messaging, such as Selfie Stickers, Smart Reply, and Google Assistant (more on those below).
Google has been trying to find a foothold in the messaging market for years. Starting with Google Talk, going through Hangouts and its ever-growing text, voice, and video features, and finishing with newer apps like Allo, Google Duo, and Google Messenger – Google seems to have tried it all.
When Allo came out in September 2016, things looked promising. The app used phone numbers as identifiers, which was good for users who needed a texting app that wasn’t connected to their social media or email.
The app also had numerous useful features, some of which innovative for their time:
Add to this a message-reaction feature, an in-chat translation tool, and the ability to make video calls using Google Duo, and Allo seemed to be doing great.
While Allo offered users many entertaining tools to enhance their messaging experience, it just wasn’t doing all that well in terms of numbers. The peak of downloads was the first 12 weeks after launch when it reached around 10 million downloads, and by the time Google decided to discontinue it, the app had had less than 50 million downloads.
That might seem like a lot, but it simply wasn’t enough compared to the more than a billion people using Facebook’s Messenger monthly or the 2 billion using WhatsApp.
One recurring criticism of the service was that when Allo launched in 2016, it was available only on one device since it was connected to the user’s phone number. That didn’t help attract more users, and even though in 2017 Google added the option to have the app on one mobile device and use it on the web, it might have been a bit too late.
While people were generally happy with Google Assistant and some viewed it as an improvement to Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. When Allo first appeared on the market, Google was planning on storing messages sent in the regular mode for a limited time and then deleting them. Later, however, they decided to keep the records indefinitely and use them for the Smart Reply feature.
Additionally, it turned out that the end-to-end encryption in Incognito mode was disabled by default. This, combined with the archived messages, caused concerns about whether users were at risk of government surveillance. Google considered turning on the encryption settings by default, but this was never implemented.
Finally, the lack of SMS support was a big hindrance. People could use Hangouts to talk on the web and via SMS at the same time, so it was a legitimate question why people would prefer to switch to Allo.
Having this in mind, it’s not much of a surprise that Google decided to redirect time and resources elsewhere. In April 2018, Anil Sabharwal, the new head of Google’s communications group, announced that the tech giant was “pausing” the development of the Allo project and would be focusing on something called Android Messages and the new RCS standards and Chat.
In December 2018, Google announced Allo was to be officially discontinued in March 2019, and users were given the option to save their data beforehand. Google suggested they move to the new Messages tool, which would have many of Allo’s features.
Considering Google’s continuous attempts at building its own top-messaging app, it’d be expected that the giant’s next project would have been an even better version of Allo, Hangouts, and even the quite successful Duo.
Google decided, instead, to turn Hangouts into a communication tool exclusively for company teams, removing its focus away from private customers, and putting it in the same category as tools like Slack, for example. Additionally, the company decided to establish the new standards for carrier-based text messaging and turn Google Messenger into the default text app for Android.
So, Google took on the seemingly impossible task of convincing hundreds of carriers and a dozen phone manufacturers to start the transition from the antiquated SMS and MMS system to what Google referred to as “Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services.” They called the new system “Chat”, and the idea behind it was to incorporate the many instant-messaging features that had been coming on the market in the previous decade, Including Allo features such as Google Assistant and selfie stickers.
RCS standard was to use WiFi and data connection to transfer messages, which would move the cost from customers’ SMS plans to their data ones. Whether it would incur extra charges, of course, was left to the carriers. Considering carriers’ negative view of tools such as iMessage and its ability to avoid SMS charges, it looked as if Google might be biting more than they can chew.
Yet, by early 2020, about 88 carriers in 59 countries offered their users RCS and the market is expecting to grow in 2021. Also, more and more Android devices nowadays come with a preinstalled Google Messenger, or, as it is now known, Android Messages – the default RCS text app.