Being better, no doubt, is always good. But it would do more harm than good to you if you lose to your competition despite being the better one. Such is the dilemma that faces Google with its newly announced smart messaging apps- Allo and Duo.
Bot-based messaging has been on the periphery for quite some time. Enthusiasts are bustling at the prospect of having a daily use app that makes use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, concepts that many before have romanced. Just like the black holes and space-time conundrum in physics, AI and machine learning have been the holy grail in the field of computing. They go hand in hand. As Google prepares for a leap into the future, the not so enthusiastic ones are apprehensive. They aren’t convinced that the world is ready to let go of WhatsApp, a messenger app that might well go down as one of the biggest success stories of this decade. After all being the default app is much better than just being better, they say.
In this article, we’ll discuss all this and much more, trying to foresee how the battle for the numero uno messenger app will unfold. We try to analyze Allo, more so its relevance in the present context and the future prospects it holds. And what’s better to do that, if not our favourite SWOT.
Strengths: The power of data
These apps bring together two of Google’s very powerful services, Search and Assistant. If Google can slowly manage to integrate the entire Google ecosystem – Messaging, Maps, Mails and more, all into one single powerful app, it will be a big bonus, not only to Google, but also to the users, who will be able to enjoy a seamless and smooth daily experience.
Google is a data powerhouse. With the huge amount of data it sits upon, how much control could it achieve? This is a concern voiced by many, applicable to very few actually, if modern messenger conversations are any evidence. But this data allows them to streamline and optimize their analytics, and will allow them to come up with better services in the future.
He who holds the data, holds the mantle. Future models are going to be hugely data driven, more so with the Internet of Things around the corner. Imagine how handy will a messenger that can communicate with your machines be, a one-stop app, to converse with every device in your house and every person outside. Cool or creepy? The jury will definitely be out on this one, if at all it happens.
A big plus is that Google has avoided the blunder of bundling the services of Allo and Duo into one single app. This allows both of them to cater to different requirements, ensuring a well balanced competition and allowing users to choose the app of their choice.
Weakness: Not Google’s home ground
Google may have pioneered the best of digital revolutions, but messengers are one area it has never been comfortable in. Google talk and Hangouts both performed below potential. More recently, Hangouts has been a complete mess, and honestly, I feel Google realised this long before. There were calls for revamping it, making the experience more smooth and user friendly, but they remained unanswered.
Why a new app then, people may ask? Couldn’t they have revamped the Hangouts app? True, they could. But Google is playing safe on this one. Building it right from scratch, inculcating new features like AI and machine learning. A significant decision is to base this app on the user’s mobile number and not on his Google (gmail) account. It is a much needed liberty for some and provides more flexibility and a greater advantage to Google in terms of the user base.
Opportunities: The Google advantage
The most basic problem encountered by a new product, no matter how good it is, is getting people to use it for the first time. Google has that sorted out. These apps can, and will, be integrated into the future Android OS roll outs. They just have to be good enough to catch on, and the modern chatter will do the rest.
Google earns by facilitating online sales and engagement, aka advertising. Messenger marketing is surely next in digital marketing. (click here to refer to our previous issue for more on this topic) While WhatsApp gets ready to offer dedicated corporate services; Google has come up with these apps, integrated AI and machine learning, allowing for a faster and hence better option for the modern, time-savvy professional. Security issues exist, but with end-to-end encryptions (even though they have exploitable loopholes at Google’s end), some of these apprehensions will rest. Phone number based targeting on the mobile will be much easier, allowing for a better engagement, as desired by both businesses and users.
A sneak peek into the Allo interface
Bot based chats are expected to rule the roost in future. Google just might have pioneered the future here. The impact of Google coming out with this feature will always be of greater magnitude than any other firm doing the same. In the larger picture, the world could be migrating to chat based bots soon, which still is more or less a fictional love story as of now.
Threats: WhatsApp, WhatsApp and WhatsApp
Not much needs to be said. It is going to be WhatsApp (read Facebook) vs Google over this one. On one side is WhatsApp, backed by 1.65 billion monthly users on Facebook, another billion on WhatsApp, 900 million on Messenger and 400 million on Instagram. Out of these, Instagram has its own niche, so it can be excluded. Messenger, now with the provision of a “non-Facebook” mode, offers direct competition along with WhatsApp. On the other side stands the huge Google monster, needing no introduction. A simple “Google Search” defines its reach. With space on the mobile becoming almost claustrophobic today, one thing is clear. More than a billion battles will be fought. Most mobile battlefields will witness the fall of either of these giants. “Which one?” is the billion dollar question.
Secondly, with WhatsApp letting go of their minute subscription fee, they are trying to appeal to businesses, to try it out for communication purposes, both internally and with their customers. With the marketing prowess of Facebook at their disposal, this may again turn into a full blown battle.
The most basic threat will be making people accept a new messenger. Success depends on the gap between the early adapters and the late laggards. Google would want a significant market share in messengers, but first it would need to cross the 13-15% mark, considered to be a tipping point in most cases.
It includes people who are either apprehensive of their cyber security or simply want an uncomplicated way to communicate. There are people who consider it to be too intrusive and don’t want anyone’s eyes on their personal lives. Google has come up with an “incognito mode” within the messenger for them. Whether or not it will serve its purpose, it remains to be seen.
Then comes the fear of moving towards a world of bots, one where communication loses its true essence. Philosophers have always backed conversation as the best way to learn, because when you converse, you think. Choosing one option out of a list of 4 or 5 hardly replicates this learning.
Machine Ethics, maybe?
They date back to the existence of the concept of machine learning, referring to the moral behaviour of artificially intelligent machines. We are all familiar with how Microsoft had to pull down their AI chat-bot recently, because apparently it had “learned” racism from users. There needs to be a monitoring mechanism to prevent these machines from exhibiting biases, which are bound to arise upon digitization of cultural prejudice.
All said and done, as the smart world awaits the arrival of the first smart messenger (in the true sense) – Allo, one thing is clear. As said by Scott Cook, the Director of P&G, in today’s world, “A product or a brand is no longer what the marketer tells the customers it is. It is what the customers tell each other it is.” Let’s wait and watch whether the smart world accepts the smart messenger.
All Images Courtesy: Google Images