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Losing Out to Facebook and Snapchat, Google Tries to Clean Up Messaging

Google is going to phase out its messaging app Allo at the end of March and move any existing users to Messages, its new default Android SMS and chat app, the company announced this week. The move comes as Google is finding itself struggling to keep up with competitors like Facebook, Snapchat, Line and others.

Allo was first announced some 2.5 years go in conjunction with Google’s video chat app Duo. Allo was supposed to be a modern take on text chat, incorporating smart replies, stickers and the Google Assistant, allowing users to effectively chat with Google itself.

However, the app had plenty of competition not only from outsiders, but also from within the company. The search giant continued to support its Hangouts text chat app, and was also separately developing an Android SMS messenger app that ultimately turned into Messages. As a result, Allo was widely ignored by consumers, leading to Google effectively pausing development earlier this year.

“We’ve learned a lot from Allo,” said Google vice president of consumer communications products Matt Klainer in a blog post this week, which detailed the company’s shift to Messages. “Given Messages’ continued momentum, we’ve decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.”

There are some technical reasons for this shift: Allo was primarily focused on internet-based text chat. Messages on the other hand has been built to support next-generation SMS as well, and is tightly integrated with phone carriers.

“We’ve been working closely with the mobile industry to upgrade SMS so that people around the world can more easily enjoy group chats, share high-res photos, and get read receipts on any Android device,” Klainer said.

However, Klainer also admitted that cutting Allo was an attempt to “focus moving toward a simpler communications experience” as well — something that’s hard to achieve when you have numerous products offering virtually the same features, confusing consumers in the process.

Google has long had a tradition of letting different products compete against each other, which includes having two bets on the future of TV hardware (Android TV and Chromecast), two music services (Google Play Music and YouTube Music), as well as two operating systems for tablets (Android and Chrome OS).

But while competition can be healthy, even within a company, it this approach has led to a good amount of confusion amongst consumers when it comes to messaging. One reason: Google has not just two, but many more irons in the fire in this space.

Google has been pushing hard to turn Messages into the default SMS and messaging app on Android, but also continues to offer SMS chat via its Google Voice app.

Allo precursor Hangouts continues to be developed and supported by the company. Hangouts precursor Google Talk lived on within Gmail for over a decade, only to be finally phased out in favor of Hangouts last year. And now, the company has been refocusing Hangouts towards enterprise use with a product called Hangouts Chat.

The confusion around Google’s messaging strategy has not only slowed down growth of its messenger apps, it also led to competitors innovating faster on the future of messaging. Case in point: Stories, which were first popularized by Snapchat, have become hugely successful for Facebook’s Whatsapp messenger, surpassing 450 million monthly users earlier this year.

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