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Trying to make sense of Google's messaging mess

Matt Kapko | Aug. 26, 2016
Google's mélange of messaging apps is about to get even more chaotic. The company plans to shift its consumer-centric Hangouts app towards the enterprise, just as it starts from scratch with two new apps for consumers: Allo and Duo.

Google appears to finally be trying to clarify its strategies for communication and messaging. However, the company determined it needs more messaging apps — not fewer apps. 

By the end of this year, Google will maintain at least eight different messaging apps, including Hangouts, Google Messenger, Google Chat, Google Voice, the Jibe rich communication services (RCS) app for carriers, Allo, Duo and the Spaces group-sharing app. Following the early August release of Duo, a new one-to-one video calling app, and the complementary messaging app Allo, which is expected to launch before summer's end, Google says it plans to reposition Hangouts as an enterprise service.

The three-year-old Hangouts app was supposed to merge the best of Google's messaging features into a single platform, but now it's apparently destined for enterprise. "As it's focused on the enterprise, its features lend themselves to productivity scenarios," says Google spokesperson Brooks Hocog. "[Hangouts] works great across platforms (web, iOS and Android) and medium (video, voice and messaging), and is based on your Google account, which is particularly useful for organizations that are based on the same identity system like Google Apps customers."

Google will "continue to invest in Hangouts to make it a great enterprise communications product across devices," Hocog says.

A step in the right direction for Hangouts, but …

Google is starting to apply "a bit more logic" to its communications app strategy, but the company still has too many apps with similar functions, according to Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of tech research firm Jackdaw. Retooling Hangouts for business does not solve Google's fundamental problem with messaging apps, he says. "You'd have to see some serious consolidation for this to begin to come to an end," Dawson says. "Google should have one messaging app, one video calling and phone app, and that's it." 

Google's overall approach to development is a problem that impacts strategy and branding throughout the company, according to Dawson. "Teams within Google seem to be empowered to go and create stuff without coordinating with other teams — that can lead to great innovations, but more often than not it appears to lead to this kind of fragmented, disjointed approach to a space," he says. 

This try-anything-and-everything approach to messaging is a direct reflection of Google's comfort with experimentation and a result of its many recent corporate acquisitions, according to Raul Castanon-Martinez, a senior analyst with 451 Research. "Having multiple messaging apps is not a strategy in itself but rather a means to an end," he says. "This is a temporary situation, and Google will eventually streamline their strategy and the number of apps will go down."

Google and its users will continue to endure growing pains, "not unlike the nightmare that transitioning to a single Google ID for YouTube, Gmail and Google+ was for consumers," Castanon-Martinez says. However, letting people ultimately pick which messaging apps they prefer is a smart play, he says. "Facebook has proven that you can be successful with multiple social messaging apps. It might seem like Google's approach is all over the place, but I think they're aligning the different pieces to better serve each of these segments."


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