Category Archives: Apps

Allo just got a Desktop Interface – Goodbye Hangouts, Voxer, and GroupMe

Want to jump straight to the Allo desktop interface? Click here: https://allo.google.com/web

Currently, I use several apps to communicate with family, friends, business partners, leadership teams, etc.:

  • Hangouts for SMS and Hangout IM’s (I am a Project Fi user so SMS still works in Hangouts… for now)
  • Voxer for voice messages
  • GroupMe for group text messages
  • Allo for communication with my wife and a handful of others
  • Facebook Messenger for those that don’t have my phone or email
  • Inbox by Gmail for personal email (Gmail app for business email)

In this convoluted time of hundreds of messenger and SMS apps I am hoping to rid myself of at least 3 –  Voxer, Hangouts, and GroupMe – once Allo has a desktop interface.

If you read my last post then you know about the crazy messaging world we live in today. If I haven’t said it before, I will say it again, I am a Google fan, and once Google gets something right it will be hard for me to stay away.

Google Allo and Duo are approaching their one-year mark, and a lot has changed for both over the last year. But the one thing that will make me fully dump three other apps for Allo just dropped.

You can find my launch-day reviews of each app here and here, respectively. But over the last year we have seen many features and upgrades added to these two apps that make them both stand out in their fields. While this won’t be a full feature list of Allo, I do want to touch on why I think Allo can replace these three apps (and apps like them) and give a breakdown of some bonus features Allo can do that these other apps cannot:

Text anyone in a group just like GroupMe

Allo has the ability to do group conversations. These conversations can be done whether or not everyone in the group wants to download and use the app. They will get an initial notification from Allo that [contact] has sent them a message via Allo and will offer a link to download, but, should they decline, they can continue to text back and forth with the person or group. (SMS cannot handle images, emoji’s, stickers, Google Assistant Cards,  and other content so keep this in mind, they will be sent another link to download Allo when this content is shared by the Allo user).

Voice recordings practically live like Voxer

While Voxer has the almost instant walkie-talkie-like feeling, Allo has a feature very close to this, and, if you aren’t using Voxer for instant conversation but instead find yourself using it to relay audio because it is easier, Allo gets the job done. In any group or individual conversation you can hold the microphone button and record your message. As soon as you let go it sends it off, notifying the user. My wife and I will switch back and forth between texts over Allo to sending recordings depending on whether we are driving or dealing with kids.

You can still send SMS texts to your friends and family that don’t use Allo, sort of

Just like other apps like GroupMe, Allo will not send you a native SMS, but will tell you that your friend is using Allo, offer a link to download the app, and then proceed via SMS throughout the rest of the conversation. It won’t use your friends’ native phone number (just like GroupMe doesn’t) so that can be frustrating, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a chat with your non-Allo friends. (Granted, if they want to see anything beyond your 160 characters they will have to download the app.)

What else does Allo bring to the table?

Features Allo has that the other apps do not:

  1. The Google Assistant baked into every conversation to help you find the information you need and instantly share it with your friends. A collaborative tool to find movies, restaurants, play games, etc.
  2. Incognito mode with encrypted, self-timed expiring conversations for your secure messages (Hey wife, remind me of your SSN? What is the security code on our credit card? etc.)
  3. Smart Replies (like you see in the Gmail app and other Google apps)
  4. Make Duo calls with a button for Duo in every conversation
  5. Enlarge or shrink your text or emo
  6. Drawing over images you have taken to point out areas of interest (or just have fun).
  7. A future with Google money and Google innovation. (Voxer is independently owned, GroupMe is owned my Microsoft, and Hangouts is dead according to Google)

So why haven’t I made the jump until now? Desktop.

About 90% of my messaging conversations happen cross-platform. While I am on a computer I am using hangouts.google.com and group.me for my SMS and IM needs along with Facebook Messenger (and I am on a computer close to 10 hours a day, on average). The rest of the time I am continuing those conversations on my phone, switching to the audio platforms when driving or unable to text quickly.

With Allo this can all be in one app, and that is a big deal for me.

Now, like everything, this is not for everyone, but for those that want a straightforward way to do almost everything they can with 3 or more other apps… Well… Allo is the place for me.

What do you think about Allo having a desktop counterpart? Do you use other desktop apps like Group.me, Hangouts, Whatsapp or others? Why or why not? Let me know in comments below or hit me up on Facebook!

 

 

SMS, MMS, RCS and Modern Messaging Apps

The majority of this post was written while I was composing the next post about Allo and their desktop client. The conversation is directly related as you will see when that post comes out, but, ultimately, this topic warrants it’s own post.

SMS and MMS (Short Message Service and MultiMedia Service): A brief history

SMS was built to send a 160 character message from one cell phone number to another. That is all it was ever built to do and that protocol has not changed. It is a system that is finally widespread enough to be available everywhere in the world and yet the structure of how each cell service and cell carrier interpret is still not standardized. MMS was created to allow for some simple expansion beyond the limits of SMS and often MMS is used in its place to get the users request carried out correctly.

Some examples:

  • SMS was built for GSM networks and so has never had a perfect marriage with CDMA networks, AKA Sprint and Verizon, and only at the creation of 3g were they able to jump on board (3G and onward uses code akin to a US tourist using an adapter to plug-in to a European outlet, it gets the job done but isn’t ideal or perfect).
  • Messages that are longer than 160 characters (thus not supported by SMS) are handled differently by different carriers. Some carriers will send longer SMS in 160 character broken spurts to keep it within the SMS protocol, others will convert the message to MMS so it can be sent all at once.
  • Group texts either come in separately as each text is received (keeping it in the SMS protocol) or are also converted to MMS so that they can stay together.
  • SMS and MMS both have to be deeply integrated into every developed text app on any given phone so that things continue to go smoothly. This is determined by each carrier and phone manufacturer and there is no universal standard. Things like emoji beyond just semicolon, dash, end-parentheses (AKA ; – ) = 😉 ), photos, voicemail, active links that you can click, location services, videos, etc. and the list can go on and on and each carrier and phone manufacturer has to build an app that can translate both SMS and MMS natively.

SMS, at its core, is great, but we WANT it to do more than it was built to do.

RCS (Rich Communications Services) – the future(?) of SMS/MMS

This is a very new (read: Nov 2016) protocol that has been created by the GSMA, a global consortium of mobile network providers, and is currently being pioneered by Google and their “Android Messages” app. It allows for a multitude of protocols beyond SMS and MMS including gifs, location-based services and many others, and it is the desire by most carriers and by Google for this to become the new standard, at least across Android devices. It is a collaboration between network providers and phone manufacturers as the phone has to be built with the right software, and the carrier has to support the RCS signal. RCS is not yet being developed for the iPhone as Apple wants you to keep using iMessage and has no reason to integrate RCA into iMessage at this time.

Honestly, Android Authority has done a phenomenal job of breaking down RCS and the potential future of this new messaging protocol in their overview here and, if you are interested, I really recommend checking out that article.

Independent Messaging Services (Facebook, Allo, Hangouts, iMessage, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Voxer, etc.)

So, many messaging services do not use SMS, MMS, and RCS natively (from here on all three protocols will be lumped under the term “SMS” in this post). Since the consumer wants so much more, companies are trying hard to give them more and, if we are honest, they want you to find what you want in their app over their competitors. So companies will continue to be divisive on SMS. They desperately want to leave it behind because of its limitations and programming requirements, but know the importance of its widespread use at the same time. So, each company has to make a call, place a bet, and see how it plays out: To support or not to support, that is the question. So what does that mean?

  • Supporting SMS allows for their app users to more easily talk to non-app users and vice-versa, thus creating a space where people that want to use the app and enjoy the features can, but those that don’t want to download the app don’t ever have to.
  • Not supporting SMS allows the app developers more freedom to develop new feature as they don’t have to constantly adapt for the third-party protocols, and it forces users to download their app if they want to talk to those already using it.

So, it is a gamble.

The Gamble of Google Hangouts, vs the Gamble of Facebook Messenger

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts came with SMS integration built in almost right from the start (Hangouts launched in May 2013 and got SMS integration in September with the launch of Android 4.4 Kitkat.) Google gambled that, by making Hangouts the default messaging app on their Nexus devices, people would use hangouts as their SMS app and, thus, begin using the non-SMS portions of the app as well (group video chat being a major one) and create native Hangout conversations, and, by extension, start telling their friends and family to go get the app. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Most people just used the app to send SMS messages and never used the extra functionalities that Hangouts offered, and, since people didn’t need to download the app to text those who had it, they weren’t motivated to do so. Google Fans and Nexus owners used it, and possibly their close friends and family, and that was about it. Hangouts was not heavily downloaded on non-Google devices like the iPhone. 3rd-party Android phone developers (Samsung, LG, Huawei, Sony, HTC, etc.) were pushing their own SMS apps and not Hangouts.

The adoption did not go the way Google had hoped. (Thus, Allo does not have SMS integration, at least for the time being. They are gambling the other direction this time around.)

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger, born in 2008, added SMS integration in 2012, but pulled it shortly after when it didn’t gain much traction. Then, last year in 2016, they again integrated SMS, after showing that they had triple the daily amount of messages sent across their two messaging apps (Messenger and WhatsApp) than sent daily over SMS. Why did they do this?

Facebook pulled out of SMS initially hoping more people would come to Facebook Messenger to talk to their friends who were already on Facebook. It was a gamble that worked. People downloaded the app to talk to people on the service they provided. Then, once they were established, they integrated SMS to try and reach the outliers (and to anyone who had downloaded the Messenger app in the last year, you know how pushy they are to be your default SMS app). They took the same gamble Google took for Hangouts: To try and reach a wider audience and get more people to download and use their app (If I can do SMS and my Facebook messages all in one app, why do I need another?) It worked for Facebook, it did not for Google.

The Ultimate Goal of a Messaging App: Downloads and Active Users

To get you to use their app: This is why Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and others allow for SMS, this is why Allo, Voxer, GroupMe and others do not. It is the ultimate goal of every company, and it is the gamble they take when they decide to integrate or not.

So, whether or not you want to stick with the new RCS protocol provided by the carriers that support the Android Messages app, or jump on board a dedicated messaging app created by Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Instagram, or any of the hundreds of other companies out there, the future is not yet set for our mobile communications and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future.

Google Allo – Google baked into your conversations

Finally.

I have to say, I have been chomping at the bit since May about this one.

A little backstory:

Google Hangouts was released to be the ‘ultimate communications app’ and…. it has been struggling. It hasn’t kept up with the other chat services new functions and abilities and with SO MANY (really awesome) features, many users were confused on how it was used and were not utilizing everything. (Did you know you could start a video call right within a hangout conversation? Most didn’t.)

Google has decided to focus more on their business customers when it comes to Hangouts and, while it has not been officially announced, will eventually only provide the app for their Google Apps for Work subscribers. They realized that having one app do everything was too confusing for the average user and thus announced Duo and Allo this past May. (Read here for my Duo review.)

Well, Due came out last month (as the response to video chat apps), and, finally, Allo is here.

Then came Allo

Allo was released this morning (9/21) on Android and iOS and I could easily go into EVERYTHING that it can do, but this article would be incredibly long and the point of this blog is to give you the brief, easy to understand explanation.

Allo was released as a messaging service as a direct response to apps like Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatApp, and all the others like these out there, but it has one thing going for it that those others just don’t: Google.

Why is Allo Different?

When you are having a conversation with someone and start talking about getting a bite to eat Google will automatically add a list of nearby restaurants to the conversation. Want to see a movie? Google will pop up the latest movies and their nearby showtimes. What about trivia? Ask Google a question by putting @google before your text so that it knows you are asking the search assistant and it will do it’s darndest to get you an answer. And, everyone in the chat can see the results, so you no longer have to copy and paste information across services into a chat.

You can also resize your texts (instead of using caps to shout), you can add stickers, emoji’s of course are still there, and, predictive text. Over time it learns what you like to say in response to things. Like if you are more of a ‘haha’ person vs a ‘lol’ person. It also has an incognito mode which encrypts your conversations by default and once deleted, always deleted. (The Google Assistant is also not a part of those conversations, for obvious reasons.)

All this is demonstrated incredibly well on Google’s page, so, if this has you interested, I would go check out the incredibly well-designed app on this equally well-designed website to see it in action and get the download links for Android and iOS (yep, once again, cross-platform!)

And when you do download it, give me a quick, ‘Allo!’

https://allo.google.com/

Like my first post, ask me questions! Either in the comments or on Facebook. I will add them to this post.

Edit: Questions and Clarifications:

  • Allo currently only works on one device at a time. If you log in on a different device your initial device will deactivate.
  • Like iMessage, you will have to deregister your phone number before you register a new one.
  • Allo does not send standard SMS when someone else does not have Allo but instead sends them a notification from Google that you sent them a message and to install the app to reply.
  • Most reviews are pretty mixed, and for good reason, Google has some more work to do before this will become the SMS replacement they want it to be:
    • It is one more messaging app in a sea of messaging apps, and it comes late to the game.
    • The features that separate this app from the pack are not quite impressive enough (yet) to draw people away from other apps.
    • It will not send standard SMS to non-Allo users.
    • It cannot be used on tablets or web-browsers (yet) while almost all the other messaging apps have this already (including Google’s own Hangouts).

Google Duo – the Facetime-like app that works across platforms

What is Facetime?

Facetime is an Apple iOS exclusive app that allows you to quickly start a video chat with anyone else that has an iOS device. iPhone, iPad, etc.

The obvious problem is that not all of us own iOS devices, and there have been many other apps (Skype and Google Hangouts are the most well known competitors) that have tried to compete with Facetime since it’s launch in 2013.

The first problem that Google wanted to tackle was that these alternative apps (including their own Hangouts app) were too confusing and complicated because they were chalk full of so many (useful!) functions that the average just didn’t use. If you didn’t have an on-call techie in your pocket you easily got lost.

The second problem they found was that most users don’t want to setup a new service or account. While Google’s Hangouts was connected to your Gmail, it still was convoluted enough that it turned people away.

Thus came Duo. Built by Google to do just one thing VERY well: video chat on your phone across Android and iOS.

  • Duo is connected to your phone number. So no account needed for setup.
  • Duo is available in both Google Play and the iOS App Store
  • Duo connects with your phone’s contacts and shows you who already has Duo and lets you invite those that haven’t.
  • Duo is end-to-end encrypted. Meaning that the Government (or anyone else) can’t spy on your video chats.
  • Duo is not a data hog. Google spend a lot of time on the back end to give you great video even on networks that are not so great.

Duo also has one unique feature that Google calls “Knock, Knock.” Knock, Knock allows someone receiving the video call to see the callers video before they answer. So when your phone starts ringing with the call you can look down and see not only who is calling, but what they are wanting to show you. (Don’t worry, only people in your contacts can call you, you won’t receive video calls from strangers)

It launched on August 16th, 2016, so it is still fairly new to the scene, but it has been downloaded over 5 million times, which, if you don’t know, is a lot for a new app. Is it the Facetime killer? Time will tell, but I believe it could be since it allows friends and families that don’t all own iOS devices to still connect in a simple, straightforward way.

Check out Google’s video showing off Duo in action:

Do you have any additional questions about Duo?

Reader questions answered:

1: Since Duo is connected to your phone number there is no other sign up needed. It will send you a verification code to verify your number and that’s it!

2: Both parties will need the app. Unlike FaceTime which comes pre-installed on iOS. There is a rumor that Duo will become a pre-installed app for Android down the road along with Allo (another app I will breakdown when it releases here soon) but it is unsubstantiated.


Update: August 14,  2017

Days away from a year and many updates later I am still impressed with this app.

It has since added the ability to make audio-only calls so you can call your loved-ones over wifi even when you have no cell signal (read: vacation and/or overseas). It has had a few overhauls on the back end as well that make it faster and less-data-hogging. I have to say that I am still very impressed with this video chat app compared to most of the rest out there these days.

Whether or not it is something I use… well, that is a different issue. Video calls are like phone calls for me. I rarely make or take phone calls, so this very impressive video call app gathers almost the same amount of dust my dialer app gathers. There just isn’t a place in my life yet for a video call app, and adoption amongst my friends and family remains low for similar reasons.