Update (April 12): Voice calling on Google Duo is rolling out worldwide today, according to the app’s principal engineer, Justin Uberti.
?? Google Duo's new audio calling feature now available worldwide! pic.twitter.com/gFQxQTcu2S
— Justin Uberti (@juberti) April 10, 2017
Our original story follows.
Seven months since its launch, Google’s Duo video calling app is finally adding support for voice-only calls. The feature is rolling out first in Brazil, where Google announced the update at a São Paulo event; it’ll become available elsewhere in the world in the coming days.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m excited about it at this point. I already use WhatsApp for most of my essential messaging and calls these days, and I don’t see the need to invite my contacts to try another app.
Of course, I’m biased because I started on WhatsApp a long time ago, and that may not be the case for other smartphone users who get started with other messaging services, depending on where they are in the world, what’s popular there and which apps come preinstalled on their devices (Duo is now a default app on my Android 7.0-based Xiaomi Mi 5, and I can’t uninstall it).
Even so, Duo isn’t a particularly enticing app at this point; a vast majority of my contacts aren’t on it yet, which means I’ll need to first send them a message to download it before we can use it.
Its spartan interface leaves offers little reason to fiddle with the app, unlike its rivals. With WhatsApp, for example, I can check out people’s photo and video statuses, see what my friends have been rambling on about in group chats and pick up the thread in past conversations.
That doesn’t mean that Duo needs to become bloated with unnecessary features – but its functionality also doesn’t warrant a standalone app. We wrote last August about how Duo should be folded into Hangouts, and that idea still makes sense today. Google could even go a further and bake its Allo messaging app into Hangouts, making it smarter by way of the built-in AI-powered Assistant.
I’d have considered using Duo if other options didn’t cut it – but they do, and as a result, Duo feels like an also-ran, or just a part of an app that Google is still figuring out.
The same could be said for Allo: it’s just added the ability to share files (documents, PDFs, Android APKs, zip files and MP3s, for example) in conversations, while other apps with significantly larger user bases have had this for ages.
For reference, Allo is yet to cross even 50 million downloads on Google Play since it released half a year ago, while WhatsApp has crossed 1.2 billion users this year. While clever features like Allo’s smart replies are nice to have, they simply aren’t enough to build a large user base quickly. But if Google can tightly integrate its messaging service with the rest of its products and the Android UI without making it feel like another app to get used to, the company might have a shot in the messaging app wars.