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?