Google Allo - Intelligent Instant Messaging App Review

Another messaging app. Can its assistant get you to switch?

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In September 2016 Google launched Allo, another in a long line of its messaging apps. Taking on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Google tries to add a new twist by mixing in artificial intelligence from Google Assistant. Allo is available for:

  • iPhone
  • Android

Yep, that's it.

Allo: A Departure from Google's Habits

You'd think when you sign into a Google product it would know all about you. But, no—Allo requires your mobile number (it'll then send a text to make sure the device you are on is the one you said it is).

Allo only works on the mobile devices, so there is no browser version. That seems so fundamentally not Google that it leaves us scratching our heads a bit.

On top of that, Google gave Allo a bigger push than Google Hangouts. Heck, it even gave Google Duo a bigger push than Hangouts. Oh, what's Google Duo? It's a... I know, I know. It's a messaging app. But for faces. Like FaceTime, but from Google. Why not build Duo into Allo? Yes, you have as many questions as we do.

Allo's Intelligent Personal Assistant 

We briefly mentioned the Google Assistant that lives inside Allo, but let's dive in a little more. You can chat with the assistant just like a friend and the assistant will learn things about you. Here's a simple example: While you are chatting directly with the assistant, you can say to the assistant "My favorite team is the New Jersey Devils" and the assistant will respond with "I'll remember that." So, when you want to know how your team did, you'd ask as if you owned the franchise: "How'd my team do?" It's sorta-kinda like chatting with Siri.

Here's where it gets interesting: during a chat with a friend (or friends), you can @ the assistant and, in the same chat window, you can ask the assistant for help (say finding a restaurant you all want to go to). It's like the assistant is there the whole time, just waiting for a question.

Allo's Privacy 

Let's talk privacy and get one thing out of the way: Your messages are stored on Google's servers and encryption is not on by default.

You have to go into Incognito Mode, but that's not on automatically and there's a chance most users won't know about it.

While in Incognito Mode, your messages are not stored on Google's servers and you can opt to have your messages be automatically deleted after a certain amount of time (you can decide how long). So, you could send a message and have it delete on your phone 30 seconds after you send it and 30 seconds after the recipient reads it. Once it's deleted, it's gone. It's not on your phone or Google's servers. Handy, but, again, you have to be in Incognito Mode. 

Should You Switch to Google Allo?

Boy, that's a hard one. The assistant is handy, there's no doubt about it. But the assistant isn't perfect and there's a good chance your friends are on WhatsApp, FaceBook Messenger, iMessage, or even Google's own Hangouts. So, Allo is a good app with a lot of external and internal competition. If it never existed, the world would never have missed it.