Google released a new messaging app, Allo, this week. Yes — a new messaging app. It’s not SMS, or WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger. It’s not Signal, Kik, GroupMe, Skype, Line, Telegram, or Viber. It’s certainly not iMessage! Snapchat? Nope. And, it goes without saying, it’s not Google Messenger, or Hangouts, the two other messaging apps that Google already released. That would be ridiculous.
I’ve enjoyed reading the reviews of Allo because it’s obvious how everyone is struggling to say something about a product that adds no real value. This Verge headline is my favorite:
The funniest part is, Allo is not even “fine.” Allo sucks!
Allo had three main selling points to distinguish itself from other messaging apps: One is that it offers an “incognito mode,” which sounds enticingly private. Another is that it has special “Google Assistant” AI to make your life easier. But if you want to use this AI, the “incognito mode” won’t work, and Allo’s default privacy settings are terrible. (It stores everything you say indefinitely.) Meanwhile, Google Assistant is basically just Siri, or Alexa, or Cortana, but you type to it instead of speaking to your phone. It’s no more helpful than just typing whatever you need to know into a normal Google search bar. The draw is supposed to be that you don’t have to leave the app, but to be frank: Leaving an app is not a hardship. I asked Google Assistant where I could get my shoes cleaned and all it did was pull up a link to a Complex article about cleaning your shoes at home. I got more specific and asked “Where can I take my shoes to get them polished in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn?” and it did give me the Yelp results for a shoe place near me, which is also what came up when I typed “shoe clean clinton hill” into a Google search bar. It’s supposed to get smarter the more people use Allo, but tough luck, because no one is going to use Allo! (Also, Facebook Messenger also offers mediocre chatbots; this feature doesn’t make Allo unique.)
Also, Allo told me that I could communicate with people who don’t already have Allo as though I was sending them an SMS message. Sort of like how I can send someone with an Android an SMS via iMessage. “You are chatting with [person’s number] by SMS for free” is what Allo says when you try to chat with a non-Allo-having friend (a.k.a., all your friends). Here’s the dirty trick: You are not chatting with [so-and-so] by SMS for free.
Instead, your hapless friend gets an obnoxious notification that’s a blatant attempt to encourage downloads of Allo before your message is displayed:
If I was sending a message to my enemy, this would be fine. It’d be great! Bombarding someone with “download this app” notifications is a glorious method of modern psychological warfare. Sending this spammy message to a friend, however, is entirely unacceptable. No one will respond to this; it looks like the SMS version of a phishing email.
All I want from a messaging app is the ability to send private messages to whomever I want. And maybe some stickers, but really, who cares? I’m ragging on Allo because it’s the newest and most useless messaging app, but just last week, Apple took iMessage and made it better for sending roughly sketched outlines of penises and worse at doing literally everything else a messaging app is supposed to do.
Meanwhile, Facebook tried to convince us that asking a chatbot for the weather is some kind of great leap forward, and Twitter’s latest DM innovation was … read receipts.