Google might be taking another tilt at messaging

I have a the­o­ry. Yes, anoth­er one. This time it’s about Google, and how I think they’re tak­ing anoth­er bite at the mes­sag­ing apple. And if I’m right, I think they have a bet­ter chance of suc­cess than pre­vi­ous efforts.

tl;dr: I think Google are going to use some of their biggest exist­ing prop­er­ties to launch their third wave of mes­sag­ing.

The Story So Far

Google have already made many attempts at mak­ing a mes­sag­ing app. Google Talk / Gchat was launched in 2005, but dis­con­tin­ued this year. Hang­outs came with Google+ in 2011, was spun out into its own prod­uct in 2013, sub­se­quent­ly suf­fered a series of con­fus­ing updates (includ­ing an ill-fat­ed attempt to merge with SMS), and has now been refo­cused as a busi­ness video con­fer­enc­ing tool. Speak­ing of SMS, there’s the ongo­ing attempt to make an com­peti­tor to Apple’s iMes­sage with Rich Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ser­vice (RCS) in Android Mes­sages, but this is depen­dent on mobile car­ri­er sup­port, and is still far from wide­spread. Then there’s Allo, of which more short­ly.

To be clear, Google need to be in mes­sag­ing — it’s an incred­i­bly impor­tant space that’s cur­rent­ly being dom­i­nat­ed by Face­book (Mes­sen­ger, 1.3bn month­ly active users (MAUs), What­sApp (1.3bn MAUs), and Insta­gram(800mn MAUs)), Microsoft (Skype), and Apple (iMessage)—and that’s with­out men­tion­ing the Asian giants. Peo­ple are increas­ing­ly spend­ing more time in mes­sag­ing apps, and the more this behav­iour­al data is miss­ing from Google, the less pow­er­ful (and less valu­able) their own data becomes. Also, mes­sag­ing can poten­tial­ly be mon­e­tised, as Face­book are cur­rent­ly try­ing with Mes­sen­ger (and, poten­tial­ly, What­sApp Busi­ness).

Allo was intend­ed to be their Mes­sen­ger / What­sApp con­tender, but it was launched in 2016 into an already full and matur­ing mar­ket, and offered very lit­tle rea­son for peo­ple to switch from their cur­rent pre­ferred mes­sag­ing app—not least the net­work cost of switch­ing the social graph. One of the few things Allo did well was stick­ers, and they seemed to be pop­u­lar; it was one of the few fea­tures that has been reg­u­lar­ly enhanced and updat­ed since launch. But that’s not enough for most peo­ple to make the switch, and so Allo cur­rent­ly lan­guish­es with some 10 mil­lion down­loads on poten­tial­ly bil­lions of devices

The Third Wave

This year, Google announced enhanced shar­ing fea­tures in two of their biggest prop­er­ties: Pho­tos, (500mn MAUs) and YouTube (1.5bn MAUs, large­ly on mobile). In both, the shar­ing takes the form of pri­vate or group mes­sag­ing chats.

Right now, nei­ther chat is very rich. They sup­port web links (with­out pre­views) and emo­ji, but don’t have the fea­tures that mod­ern mes­sag­ing apps do: stick­ers, or GIFs, for exam­ple. But Gboard, Google’s mobile key­board, does have these fea­tures, along with trans­la­tion, search results and a lot more.

Pho­tos, YouTube and Gboard all work cross-plat­form. Pho­tos and YouTube pro­vide a huge amount of reach, and the rich fea­tures of mod­ern mes­sen­ger apps can be sup­plied by Gboard.

(It must be point­ed out that Gboard’s advanced fea­tures don’t cur­rent­ly work in either YouTube or Pho­tos shar­ing. But I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch that this can be enabled—and, as an added future fea­ture, with Assis­tant too.)

It could be that Allo becomes less of a dis­crete app, and more of a frame­work for mes­sag­ing in Google’s oth­er apps. There is some prece­dence in this, as Allo’s com­pan­ion app, Duo, is being steadi­ly inte­grat­ed into Android’s core apps.

So that’s my the­o­ry: Google are going to use some of their biggest prop­er­ties to launch their third wave of mobile mes­sag­ing. What do you think?