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article imageDuo is a new simplistic video calling app from Google

By James Walker     Aug 17, 2016 in Technology
Google has launched its new video calling app Duo, a few months after announcing it at its I/O developers conference. The simple consumer app aims to make it easier to contact people through video calls but critics are divided on whether it will succeed.
Duo is one of two new messaging apps announced by Google at I/O this year. Its partner, Allo, a more traditional messaging app, will be launched later in the fall. The two new apps bring Google's total number of communication services up to four, creating a fragmented landscape that could confuse users.
Duo itself is designed to be anything but confusing. Google's announcement blog post is filled with the word "simple," indicating what it has tried to create. Duo is supposed to be an app that makes video calling as simple as sending a text message, allowing you to start a call in just a few taps.
It’s a 1-to-1 experience that doesn't currently support group calls. It is available on iOS and Android but not on the web or on desktop PCs. To get started with the app, you just need to enter your phone number. You'll then be able to contact all the people you have saved in your contacts list, a similar setup procedure to services like WhatsApp.
Once you've added your number, you can call any of your contacts with a single tap. Pressing their name will immediately begin a video call with them. Every call is end-to-end encrypted for security, giving you peace of mind about privacy and the protections around Duo conversations.
Duo's most complex feature is Knock Knock, a unique capability that lets it stand it out from the crowd. When you receive an incoming call, you'll see live video of the caller on the screen, before you answer the call. You'll be able to tell what they're doing and why they want to talk. Google says it makes calls feel "more like than an invitation than an interruption," differing from conventional messaging apps by forcing you to acknowledge the caller even if you don't answer.
Google Duo video-calling app
Google Duo video-calling app
Duo rivals current video calling services including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype. Its feature set is nowhere near as extensive as any of these apps though, something Google is betting on for Duo's success. It has crafted the app around doing one job exceptionally well. It wants to "focus" the app on just you and the person you're calling, making the rest disappear into the background.
To this end, Google has spent most of its time optimising the app's backend. It has been designed to work flawlessly on even slow networks. Call quality automatically adjusts as your network conditions change. Even when on a limited bandwidth connection, Duo will still try to maintain the call, progressively lowering resolution and quality but keeping your contact accessible. The app can also dynamically switch between Wi-Fi and mobile data, allowing you to keep talking wherever you are.
Duo may sound impressive but it has proven to be quite divisive since its unveiling earlier this year. Critics are divided on whether people actually need or want another messaging app, even if it is simpler to use than its rivals. Google already has the far more accomplished Hangouts, capable of text, voice and video calls within a single app.
Many users are already well acquainted with Hangouts, a popular chat app for many years. Google has other ideas though. It told Engadget it plans to make Allo and Duo its core consumer messaging apps, gradually converting Hangouts to be more business-centric. Consumers will now need two apps to do what could previously be achieved with one.
Suddenly, Duo's simplicity could become a weakness. As Hangouts is gradually phased out for most consumers, users will have no way to make group video calls, or any of the other powerful capabilities of Hangouts. The app may be complex and now viewed by many as excessively large but the features within are popular with users.
Google's plans seem to be vague at best. There is no obvious way to move existing Hangouts fans to Allo and Duo, not least because these apps are going to be mobile exclusives for the foreseeable future. Without a proper online presence, the scope of each app is going to be severely limited.
Google seems to have accepted that Hangouts has become too big and unwieldy. Rather than try to simplify it, it's just built two more apps though, an approach that may not prove successful in the long-term. It could end up gradually extending Allo and Duo with Hangouts capabilities, worsening the fragmentation even more and making it difficult to consumers to choose which to use.
More about Google, google duo, google hangouts, Messaging, Communication
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