This year at Google’s I/O 2016 conference, the Mountain View, California-based web giant announced two new communication applications: Allo, a new instant messenger app, and Duo, a simple, no-frills video calling app. Today, Google announced that Duo is finally available to the public on both Android and iOS platforms.
Google Duo is basically a simple and easy-to-use FaceTime competitor that works with Android devices instead of only on Apple devices. This is great news for Android users, as there were not quite as many options for face-to-face video calling applications, until now.
Duo is quite bland, however, as it’s not set up for group video calling, video effects, or text chatting. Basically, if one wants to video call someone with the application, one must first invite them over SMS with an application download link.
The application is obviously starting with zero users, which puts a certain level of uncertainty as users might opt for an app that already has their contact list. This is quite a big advantage against the already-massively-popular Facebook Messenger and Skype video calling features.
Google Duo focusing on the “human element”
Google’s vice president of product management for consumer communication, Nick Fox, said that Google focuses on three things with Duo. First, “if there’s anything that was our North Star, it was to be super, super simple. Second, Fox said that speed and reliability were incredibly important, as Duo is built on Google’s WebRTC video framework, which is able to handle HD down to 2G. Third, Fox says, is “The human element. You don’t hear Google talk about this all that often, but we wanted to enable the human on the other end of the call to really be the experience.”
As far as making “the human element” a priority, Google Duo does succeed in doing so. When opening the application, there is no need for a Google account. At first glance, the camera faces you. At the bottom of the screen is a list of recent calls and frequent contacts. Another tab contains the full list of your phone contacts, whether they have Duo or not. Upon making a video call, the application goes full screen. If someone misses a call, they receive a notification detailing as much. This is pretty much it.
“Knock-Knock” feature makes Duo more user-friendly
One interesting addition to Google Duo is a feature called “Knock-Knock,” which allows users to see a video of who is calling before accepting that call and turning on their own phone’s camera. This is a great feature as answering calls with other video applications can be quite sudden, as users don’t know whether the other party is at home, at work, or on the go. Fox details that with “Knock-Knock,” “as a recipient of the call you see them beforehand so you know their state of mind. I make silly faces to my kids…so when they see the preview, they start with a laugh.”
Google Duo’s debut is certainly coming late in the video calling application market, and it will most likely be tough for the app to get traction. What Duo does have going for it is its ability to optimize for poor network connections like 2G. This will allow the application to function is developing areas, as it can degrade video quality or switch to audio calling if the connectivity is weak.
While the application is brand-new, it has a lot of work to do in order to see true success. The rollout for Google Duo starts today, and it should be available worldwide “in the next few days,” Google’s press release reads.