Opinion: Google is killing its chances of being a messaging leader

Google has long been criticised for its lack of clear strategy when it comes to messaging, despite having unparalleled potential to be a market leader. For such a large and innovative company, a strategy for something as established as messaging should be simple. Honestly, it’s become a point of embarrassment for Android fans like myself.

While iOS users have benefited from seamless IP messaging and SMS in a single built-in app since 2011, Android users still need to download a separate app. Android, by far, has the world’s largest marketshare, and having an IP messaging app built-in would almost ensure you could reach your contacts with rich messaging from one service. Instead, most people look towards apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

It’s not like Google doesn’t have its own IP messaging apps. In fact, what’s most frustrating, is they’re some of the best available. Hangouts is like iMessage on steroids and has support for high-quality video calls with up to 30 participants which make FaceTime's one-to-one chats look dated. Allo, Google’s latest messaging app, introduced the ability to “mention” other people within the conversation to bring them in, or even task Google Assistant with helping to make plans or answer queries mid-conversation. Duo, which uses the low-latency WebRTC protocol and focuses solely on video messaging, introduced a clever ‘Knock’ feature which allows the person receiving a call to see the incoming feed before it’s accepted to have some idea of its context and/or importance. Even the Android Messages app is ahead of its time with RCS (Rich Communications Services) now built-in and just awaiting the support of more operators.

There are three main problems here:

  • The number of apps is confusing.

  • Not all the apps support the features you’d expect.

  • None of them are built into Android.

Google knows its messaging app strategy is a mess and the company is at least attempting to simplify who the apps target. Hangouts is becoming a Slack-like competitor for business, Allo and Duo target consumers, and Android Messages will target both types of users.

(Image: New version of Google Hangouts on desktop)

This article is being written after Google announced its decision to pull SMS support from Hangouts, and I’ve already heard of users switching to alternatives outside Google's ecosystem. If the company is wanting to position Hangouts as the go-to business messaging app then support for SMS is needed. Speaking from experience, SMS is still used to communicate with many contacts because it doesn't matter what platform or apps the other participant has installed. Removing support for it ultimately just makes Hangouts a weaker proposition.

Google should have noticed the outcry when Facebook split Messenger from its main app. Users want as few apps as possible. Allo and Duo are two other examples. There’s no reason Google couldn’t merge these apps to offer a compelling messaging app. As the CEO of WhatsApp, Jan Joum, once said: “Be simple and reliable”.

I’d propose just two apps, Google:

Allo – Target at consumers and have Duo built-in. Keep all the fun functionality like the ability to change font sizes, stickers, inking, and smart replies. Focus on simplicity. Have support for SMS and RCS. Make this a mandatory app to ship with Android as its stock messaging app, and use its marketshare to drive industry RCS adoption.

Hangouts – Target at business use. Make it a powerhouse communications tool. Allow users to see and send their SMS (and RCS) messages from their Android devices on the desktop. Support video calls with a large number of participants. File sharing. Add in Google Assistant for setting up meetings and performing research. Keep the app as a separate download.

One app for general consumers, the other for business users. That is much easier to explain and market than four different apps. You can be a messaging leader Google, but your current strategy is just straight up confusing. The longer you leave it, the more loyalty rivals gain, and it won’t be long before users lose interest altogether.

What are your thoughts on Google’s messaging app strategy? Let us know in the comments.

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