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Google has finally launched Duo, its super-simple video calling app for Android and iOS, after the company first announced it three months ago at its I/O developer conference.
The app, which is only available for smartphones, is the latest in a long line of Google services capable of conducting video calling, but is this time designed to simplify the process.
It is a one-to-one video chat app and Google’s direct rival to Apple’s FaceTime (which is built into all iPhones, iPads and Macs), rather than a more comprehensive video conferencing solution such as Microsoft’s Skype or Google’s Hangouts.
Amit Fulay, Google’s group manager for communications, said: “Users are reluctant to video call because they don’t know if the other person is on the right network, the right device or it’s a good time to call. We’ve tried to remove all that friction and make it feel like an invitation, not an interruption when someone call’s you.
“Duo is all about simplicity and quality. It’s all about video calling. There are no frills, no knobs or dials to adjust, it just works.”
Duo seamlessly switches between mobile broadband and Wi-Fi without dropping the call, provides the so-called Knock Knock live feed of the caller before the recipient picks up as the phone rings and has a one-tap call button to jump straight into a video call.
The app is one of the company’s first that does not require a user to have a Google account to use it, instead asking them to register and find users via their phone number rather than Gmail address. It follows a trend established by the likes of Facebook’s WhatsApp, which instead of creating a new user ID or pin, relied solely on a user’s phone number. As a consequence, WhatsApp will also only work on a smartphone.
Facebook also recently let users sign into its Messenger app using only a phone number, without requiring a full Facebook account, allowing users to chat with others via their phone numberinstead. Facebook Messenger also has voice and video calling.
Fulay said: “The chances of you having your close friends and family’s phone number is much higher than having a specific account, so using the phone number makes it easier.”
Whether users will be tempted away from the likes of Facebook Messenger, FaceTime and Google’s own Hangouts in any serious number remains to be seen. A video calling app, just like any other messaging or social media app, is only as good as the number of friends and contacts who use it.
Duo’s success will likely be linked with how many Android smartphones come with it pre-installed. Hangouts is one of the 11 apps that Google insists come pre-installed on every Android smartphone or tablet that has access to the Play Store. But Microsoft’s recent moves with certain smartphone manufacturers, including the world’s biggest Android device manufacturer, Samsung, has seen a handful of its apps including Skype pre-loaded on many Android smartphones.
If Duo becomes one of the required apps from Google, it could displace the competition as the default video calling app on Android smartphones, which may be enough to convince iPhone users to install it.
While the distinction might be lost on consumers and users of Google’s plethora of communications apps, many of which seem to do the same thing, Duo and the yet to be released text messaging app Allo, are part of the company’s mobile-consumer orientated push.
Google sees Hangouts as part of its enterprise and productivity solution, integrating with calendar and email and employed by Google Apps users. Meanwhile, a third Google arm is working a system for the rich communications services (RCS) standard that is currently under development from the telecoms industry body, GSMA, which is destined to replace SMS and MMS messaging services.
Google is facing antitrust charges from the European commission, accused of abusing its market dominance with Android and its requirement of device manufacturers to install Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Search and six other apps on smartphones and tablets with access to the Google Play Store. It remains to be seen how another app that directly competes with third-party services will be viewed by Europe if Google insists it is pre-loaded on Android phones.