Google Allo, analysis: it takes more than a bot to win WhatsApp

If the paths of Google in general are inscrutable, if we talk about applications they are still a little more. When the giant had limited itself to covering both voice and video messaging with HangOuts so far, in the past Google I / O presented two new services related to communication: Duo and Allo. A few weeks ago we saw how the first one worked and now we have finally been able to test Allo, Google's intelligent messaging.

What is Google contributing now when there are so many proposals for instant messaging? An ingredient that we are seeing incorporated in the most popular apps and that take a little more time like Facebook Messenger or Telegram: bots. Thus, in Allo we have two levels of possible interaction and the option of being able to intermingle them. We show you how this is and how it works in detail.

A personal assistant for everyone, at the same time or in private

Sometimes we say that Google is everywhere, and this is precisely Allo's idea regarding conversations, although with caveats. A little over a year ago we saw a patent that showed how Google intended to resolve doubts in the middle of a conversation, and just that is what we see applied in Allo (with some exceptions that we will now see), given that at any time we can use the search engine to assist us.

But in this case it is not something passive, but we have to address the bot (@google) either directly in a conversation, or mentioning it in group conversations. Thus, since at the moment Allo only has this bot (we do not know if they will incorporate others later), it is as simple as putting an "@" to suggest the mention of the @google bot. Since in this case we can not make mentions to other users (such as Slack or Telegram), for the moment it is the only one that we can make.

Why use the Google bot? To help us whenever we want from the chat and without resorting to other apps

The question is: why use the Google bot? As we said, it is about helping us when we want to obtain information or carry out an action from the chat and without resorting to other apps. The benefits will depend on several aspects, such as the type of chat it is, since some of them are only performed in private chats, in addition to the fact that in bot mode the bot is disabled.

What will also depend on is the syntax and the language, because in fact the language barrier is the first thing we find with little that we start asking or asking. Thus, we will have to use simple and concrete commands such as the ones we use in voice assistants, although as it happens in those cases there is also room for certain pseudo-human interactions such as jokes or expressions.

On the left: understand that we want to set an alarm. On the right: we have asked him about a plan in our agenda but he understands that it is a search.

Enough to offer, but you have to know how to ask

What we have to take into account is that now in its initial phase the bot not only understands and responds in English, but the interaction in other languages ​​is much more limited (we have verified it in Spanish). In this way, if you do not understand the command, what you do is search for it on the web, more or less how Siri and other assistants act. This is the list of requests that we can make:

  • Direct chat with the bot

    • Generic and simple questions: ask about the news (What's the latest news?), how can you help us (What can you do?) or slightly more humane questions like your favorite color (What’s your favorite color?), and even joke or tell us proverbs (Tell me a knock knock joke / proverb / ..., this in Spanish still does not understand, for example) or that a YouTube video plays us (with the formula Play or Play artist).
    • Features for the phone: set an alarm clock or a timer (Wake me up at [time] or Set time for, only available on Android), call a restaurant (we must indicate the address and the city of the same) or ask them to show us a route or the time it will take to get to a place. If in this case we indicate "home" or "to work", the bot will ask for this address if it does not already have it in its database.
    • Calendar: ask about plans on the agenda or add reminders (When’s my flight?, Remind me to [reminder], etc.).
    • Save the information: with the command My [information] is [data] We can make the bot memorize small information, such as keys or codes. For example: My mail password is 1234 (My email password is 1234), for which we would ask you What's my mail password? (What is the password for my email?).
    • Photographs: we can ask you to show us photos on a subject (only available on Android, which will come to iOS this fall) or send us photographs.
    • Subscriptions: schedule a delivery of information every day, for which we will use a Send me daily that we can get between the suggested answers according to the action (for example, when asking the time).
  • Group chat (the bot will always be by default, except in incognito chats)

    • Generic questions, simple calculations and translations: the result of a match (Did the [team] win?), to calculate a percentage (What is 59% of 324?) or even to tell us which song is similar to another (What songs are similar to [song]?).
    • Entertainment: to show us photographs, a trailer, a YouTube video (that we can see inside) or play any of the simple games that it integrates (with Play game It shows us all, although we can say the name of the game directly).
    • Navigation: nearby restaurants, being able to ask with expressions like How about Indian (How about an Indian restaurant?) And showing us the search information there, addresses, etc.

Thus, requests take between one and two seconds to be answered, more or less the same as if we used the search engine in the browser and depending on what it is. What we have seen here is that, in addition to having to spend some more time in the language academy, the itineraries that you create are not always adequate (or the most obvious for us) if we ask you to show us the route to the airport and not we specify city.

Déjà vu in conversations

Although the main point of the app is the integration of an assistance bot in conversations, the truth is that the instant messaging part is rather standard and, except for some aspects that we will now see, the options do not differ much from those that we already have other services. First of all we must know that we need a phone number to activate it, since it uses SMS activation.

A phone number that can only have one active account

A phone number that can only have an active account, or what is the same, a single session. That is, as it happens with WhatsApp or Snapchat and unlike Facebook Messenger, the moment we try to log in with the same number it will automatically kick us out of the device where we were, logging in to the new one.

Once the service is activated, we find the simplicity of Google to stop interfaces and designs. As with Duo, the lightweight interface invites little more than a conversation with three main sections: the conversation window, the list of open chats and the settings menus.

Here we begin to miss some options. Although from Google they guarantee that all conversations are encrypted with technologies such as TSL, and in the case of incognito conversations we will have end-to-end encryption, there are rather few options to adjust aspects such as media download (not being able to choose between network or file type). It is sparing in options also in terms of notifications, being able to activate or deactivate vibration but not having the level of adjustment that we do see in Telegram or the silence timing of WhatsApp.

There is encryption, but the important thing: are there stickers?

And as for the possibilities that we find in the chat itself, we can send messages with a slight personalization by enlarging or decreasing the typography if we press and hold (moving up or down). In addition, Google comes with the lesson learned and already incorporates packs of stickers, of which we will have three as standard and we will be able to download others with ease by accessing a kind of store (at the moment they all seem free, this may be a way of monetization in the future).

What we have when starting the conversation is the standard chat interface, with the upper part for messages and the text box. In it we find a "+" on the left of the writing box for shipping options (photos, stickers) and on the right the microphone or the send button. We may send small voice messages, but if we address users; at the moment we can only go to the bot in writing.

We can customize the text, draw and write on the photos and add stickers

Since it recently incorporated WhatsApp, we can draw or write on the photos, although this is another feature that only Android incorporates at the moment (it will come to iOS this fall). We can also insert GIFs from the gallery, remaining integrated and without requiring leaving the conversation to see them.

As for the tick or check code, we have the send code (gray color), the reception code (blue color) and the read code (double-tick). In this sense, we also have additional information in each message: if we click on any of them, a drop-down menu appears with options (among which we miss the "Edit message". Among them is "Data", which leads us to the information on when our messages have been read

Thus, we have three types of conversation: private (with the @google bot, which exits automatically after logging in, or with another user), group or incognito. This type of chat, in addition to the higher degree of encryption that we have discussed before, allows you to establish the duration of the messages, so that they self-destruct in a time from 5 minutes to a week. The notifications are also different, since although they appear on the lock screen or as a top strip, they will not reveal either the content of the text or who sends it to us.

Google Allo: saluting the competition from above?

This is not the time or place to talk about the unfortunate path of Google in terms of social networks, but what happened with Google+ (which never stood out among them despite having behind the technological giant), reminds a little of what has been happening with Hangouts bridging the gap. This service has not managed to sneak into the top 10 messaging apps, but the truth is that it integrates videoconferencing and SMS in the case of Android.

Allo fits into what appears to be establishing itself as smart instant messaging

Are Allo and Duo a continuation or a complement? We do not know that at the moment, but the one that concerns us today seems to be facing a trend that we have already seen in its competition and that seems to be establishing itself as intelligent instant messaging. In other words, that chat is a common base, but that the axis of innovation and complementation is to go beyond stickers and that users can take more and more advantage of artificial intelligence.

Allo is in the beginning phase and we have already seen that, although it can be quite useful, there are still aspects to improve. But what is also drawn in your future are more possibilities, more options so that having a bot in our conversations is so advantageous in practice that it makes us detach ourselves from those messaging apps that are more customary than anything else.

A long-term goal for which you will need more than just the cushion of having the search engine behind you to gain followers. On the other hand, there is how Google can exploit this new service economically, and if this assistance led by a single bot evolves to become a fleet of them (who can perform more or less specific tasks) both at home and abroad.

The app will be available in different markets little by little. They do not specify dates, but we do know that there will be versions for both Android and iOS (the iPhone version also works on the iPad) and that, like Duo, it is a free app. There are already links available to download from both platforms (here the Android one), although the iOS one is not in all the App Store (here the link to the American one).

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