Google promised it would release both Allo and Duo, it's new chat and video calling apps, this summer. Duo landed more than a month ago, but Allo is just barely squeaking under the wire before it's technically Autumn.
The Allo site is now live, and it gives you a rundown of the most important features of Google's new messaging app. The app itself is still rolling out worldwide, and may or may not yet be available for you by the time you read this. As with Duo, Allo is available for both Android and iOS. Android users who just can't wait can sideload the APK from APKMirror.
Taking another stab at messaging
Google has been criticized for its fragmented approach to messaging. Android phones often ship with Messenger, an SMS/MMS only client. Then there's Hangouts, which is included as part of Google's work offerings. We've seen Google Wave, then Buzz, and Google+ has backed off from its early ambitions as a "compete with Facebook" social network. Google launched a new group-centric communication app this summer: Spaces.
In some ways, Allo seems like the most "Google-y" of the bunch. You attach Allo to a phone number (as with Duo), but it has deep ties into Google services. It has all the expected features of messaging apps these days. Stickers, quick access to images (and, on Android, the ability to draw over them), the ability to adjust the font size to shout or whisper... but these days, Google is all about machine learning, and Allo is chock full of it.
Smart Reply learns how you respond to common messages and lets you send text or emoji responses that suit the way you normally communicate. The more you use Allo, the smarter its suggestions become.
That's a nice touch, but it's the Google Assistant that will make or break Allo. The next evolution of Google Now, the Assistant is a conversational helper. Just message @google (even in the middle of another conversation) to have Google search for that funny cat photo you took last week, or the latest score from your favorite team, or flight info, or the answer to a simple math problem... just about anything you could ask Google Now, you could probably ask the Assistant, and more.
Allo does not encrypt messages end-to-end by default, as Google's Assistant can't use all that web-based machine learning stuff to help you if it doesn't know what you're talking about. If you want to have a private conversation, you can invoke Incognito Mode to enable end-to-end encryption and control how long messages stick around before they expire.
Google's latest messaging app is also mobile-only. There's no PC or Mac client, and no web client. It's kind of an un-Google thing to do, really. Even WhatsApp, which is similarly tied to your phone number, is available on Windows, Mac, and the web.
We'll have plenty more on Allo when the app finishes rolling out over the coming hours.