Google’s standalone video-calling app Duo is no longer just for video calls. The company announced today it’s adding support for audio-only calls – a feature aimed at increasing the app’s adoption in emerging markets, where a strong, high-bandwidth network connection isn’t always available. The option is first rolling out to users in Brazil, with an expansion to other users worldwide in the “coming days,” says Google.
Duo, in case you can’t keep up with Google’s now some dozen or so communication applications, is the video calling app the company announced at Google I/O in May, 2016. The app launched last summer and serves as Google’s answer to Apple’s FaceTime. Or maybe WhatsApp.
Shortly after its arrival, Google product lead Amit Fulay noted in the comments of a Google+ post that audio-only calling was something that Google planned on adding to the app “soon.” That was in August, 2016, however. Clearly, the feature’s addition was not an immediate priority for the company.
Google today says the new audio-only calling option will work well on all connection speeds and won’t eat up users mobile data.
The feature was rolled out alongside several other launches from the company, including the addition of file-sharing within its messaging app Allo, location-sharing in Google Maps, faster backup and sharing in Google Photos, and direct posting to Google.com.
Though adding audio-only calls is something Duo users have demanded, changing the nature of Duo from a video-only app to become more broadly just a calling app also further muddles Google’s strategy in messaging.
Why are Duo and Allo separate apps, anyway? If Google’s aim is to offer a WhatsApp competitor – something that would make sense given the Facebook-owned app’s traction in emerging markets – then it should offer a single app that supports texting, file sharing, group chats, audio and video calling – like WhatsApp does.
WhatsApp, which has 1.2 billion users, is popular because of its flexibility. When decent bandwidth isn’t readily available, users can simply text. This also allows users to save money on limited data plans and those where only a certain number of SMS’s per month are available. When higher-speed connections are available, users can then place their calls or video calls – all from a single app.
Keeping Duo and Allo separated makes little sense, especially because Google today has so many other messaging and communication apps on the market. It has Hangouts, for example, which it recently split up into separate apps Chat and Meet. (These are basically the enterprise versions of Allo and Duo, but the original Hangouts is also still around for now.)
Google also operates Google Voice, which just got an update after a period of stagnation, plus an iMessage alternative, Messenger, where it has been focused on its RCS messaging strategy. (Rich Communications Services – an upgrade to SMS).
Thankfully, Google is shutting down its group messaging app, Spaces, but let’s not forget it also has messaging built into YouTube now, and it has email products, Gmail and Inbox.
This “lots of spaghetti thrown at the wall” strategy is not yet working out well for Duo, which is only ranked #60 in Social Networking and #816 Overall on iTunes, according to App Annie’s data, and #210 Overall on Google Play.