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This article was published on August 16, 2016

Google Duo should be part of Hangouts, not a standalone app

Google Duo should be part of Hangouts, not a standalone app Image by: Google
Nate Swanner
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Nate Swanner

Former Reporter, TNW

TNW's former West Coast writer in the PNW (Portland, Oregon). Nate loves amplifying developers, and codes in Swift when he's not writing. If TNW's former West Coast writer in the PNW (Portland, Oregon). Nate loves amplifying developers, and codes in Swift when he's not writing. If you need to get in touch, Twitter is your best bet.

Google Duo is a mistake.

The app itself looks the part, and has some cute features like Knock-Knock which lets you see who’s on the other end of a video call, but there’s no reason for it.

Google Duo’s simplicity

Speaking to various outlets Google bestowed early Duo access to, its project manager Nick Fox says Duo was meant for mobile, and deadpan simplicity.

It succeeds there, too. Signing up is as easy as entering a code the app automatically texts you based on the number assigned to the SIM in your phone, and it does nothing more than video.

It’s good at that. Built on WebRTC, early users aren’t noting much failure during streams.

Duo is excellent at being simple (it only has three images in the App Store!) and stupid, but it’s still a mistake. Read any of the many ‘reviews’ of Duo and the same narrative becomes clear: Duo is cool, but why do we need or want it?

It’s 2016

We’re beyond all of this ‘simplicity.’

FaceTime’s timing was spot on. If it weren’t limited to iOS devices, I doubt Duo would exist. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t have the foresight to make it widely available, so here we are.

Skype — save for Microsoft ignoring it for a few years — also beat everyone to the punch. It was the first well-known app to have it all: chat, video, and a presence everywhere. Had Microsoft not acted like it was dead on arrival, I really doubt we’d be talking about Duo.

And then Hangouts arrived, and we had a solid option for both Android and iOS. It also had chat and video functionality, and was a solid entry into for one thing we’ve been asking for: a catch-all chat app.

Save for FaceTime, which is a darling because it had advantageous launch timing and comes standard on the most popular device in the US, we’re not concerning ourselves with one-trick apps. Users constantly ask for more from Hangouts and Skype, and those are just the largest players on the field.

Now that Messenger is a standalone entity, it’s also adding value beyond simple chats.

Google Hangouts Die

What’s the purpose?

Cross-platform video chat apps are nice, don’t get me wrong — but was that a pain-point for users?

More critically, Google already has Hangouts, which does video chat just fine.

Google will gladly tell us that Hangouts is meant for enterprise, while Duo is designed for individuals. That’s a fair assessment of its own product lineup, but ultimately inconsiderate of our wants and needs.

Hangouts has a 4.5 star rating in the App Store and 3.9 stars in the Play Store (Android users seem really upset that Hangouts no longer merges SMS, and I can’t blame them. Duo has 4.1 stars). It’s a known entity, well regarded with a pretty happy fanbase.

And thats why Google Duo should have simply been a re-working of whatever issues Google thinks Hangouts has. The narrative that we need an app for work — and another for our home life — is just wrong.

Duo is pretty sensational at video chat, but it’s inferior to Hangouts in so many ways. There’s no Web presence, no way to do group calls and Knock-Knock only works for contacts. Oh, and you can only use it on one device.

Duo breaks all the wrong molds

In addition to Duo, Google will (someday) release Allo, its search-enabled chat app. Again, it has features Hangouts would benefit from, but will be its own app.

When it comes to communication, I don’t want to think about how to get hold of someone. I just want to do it. That’s why Hangouts and Messenger work so well.

I lead a charmed life in that regard as an iOS user: FaceTime is baked right into contacts. But even if I preferred Hangouts to FaceTime — and I do — I don’t want to consider which app to use to communicate with people.

I’d much rather open an app and get to chatting. That’s where Google screwed up with Hangouts ditching SMS, and where it’s going wrong with asking us to use Duo just for video chats.

If all of this Duo-Allo stuff were simply a ground-up refresh for Hangouts, I really think we’d be lauding it as the best communication app available.

Instead, we have to first ask ourselves how we want to get hold of someone, and then decide which app is best for that purpose — the one we already have, or the shiny new thing with a few non-essential bells and whistles.

Unless Google can make a really compelling case for Duo down the line (and I don’t overlook that, because most didn’t see Facebook Messenger becoming a bot platform like it has), I’ll stick with what’s in front of me — and everyone else I know.

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