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Why Google Duo has very little chance of succeeding

Google Duo launched today on Android and iOS but already the 'features' intended to make it a winner are working against its chances of ever catching on.

Published onAugust 16, 2016

Duo icon teaser

I know, it’s tough to say so on launch day because Google Duo is barely a few hours old, but hear me out. Google has had this new video chat app in development for months and yet when it finally does launch it has a grand total of one feature: Knock Knock. Which only works on the Android lock screen (you have to be in the app on iOS for Knock Knock to work). Meaning Google’s great FaceTime competitor has a grand total of nothing unique about it on iOS. That’s half the battle lost already.

Now, I’m all for simplicity, so if Duo can prove to be the stable, reliable video chat app Skype never quite managed to be, then I’m all for it. Especially if it works as well as Google says it will in areas of weaker reception or poor network speeds. After all, an app that does one thing and does it flawlessly is perfectly acceptable. This is, perhaps, Duo’s best chance for longevity, but first it needs users.

Duo's best chance for longevity is if it proves to be a stable, reliable video chat app, but first it needs users.

As with all social apps – whether a social network like Google+ or a chat app that relies on your friends installing it like WhatsApp – you need critical mass to make it viable. Even with Google forcing Google+ on us for years it still failed to catch on, and it had plenty of good features. So what, other than the novelty of yet another new chat app, makes Google think that people will install and stick with Duo?

google duo 4
google duo 2

When a new app launches with essentially one feature (that only works properly on one mobile OS), no desktop app, no support for multiple devices, and no particularly compelling reason to get people on iOS to install it (the other ‘feature’ Duo could be said to have is cross-platform support), then it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Simplicity is fine, mobile-only is OK, but there’s clearly a lot missing here.

Tying the app to a phone number means there’s no possibility to use Duo on multiple devices. This may not be a problem for a lot of people, but it also requires you to have phone numbers for all of your friends in order to Duo them. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of friends I speak to all the time that I don’t have numbers for. Admittedly, this hasn’t stopped WhatsApp from taking over the world, but there’s also no web-based version of Duo or other fun features like stickers, group chats, AR overlays (or anything else really) to convince your friends to get on board.

Duo is the very non-definition of a must-install app.

So if you can’t use Duo on multiple devices or even a computer, your iPhone-owning friends are pretty unlikely to install it because the one cool thing it does doesn’t work on iOS unless you’re already in the app, you can’t chat with half your friends because you never updated their number after they lost their last phone, you can’t just block annoying people in Duo alone because it’s tied to contacts, your friends all need to install the app first and you’re all already skeptical of Google’s attempts at new messaging apps….you get where I’m going with this. Duo is the very non-definition of a must-install app.

Google Duo verify phone number

While I don’t want to call Duo dead in the water just yet – I firmly believe it might carve out a niche if it can deliver solid stable video chat – I just can’t see it being part of the new wave of Google messaging apps (along with Allo) that will unify and ultimately replace all of Google’s other failed attempts.

Are you really willing to forego established apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Skype and WhatsApp for an app that only does (good) video? I doubt it. The fact that Duo does video alone also means that even if it’s outstanding it can’t ever be anything but a supplement to other apps. Skype’s connection quality has been terrible for a decade and I still use it, plus everyone already has Skype.

A pared-down Skype with none of the fun stuff and none of the users is a pretty hard sell. Duo’s best chance of success is if it becomes a system app with Android 7.0 Nougat – but even then it’s going to have a very tough time of things – just as Hangouts did before it.

What chance of success do you give Duo? What percentage of your contacts do you think will install it?

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