While it already offers several ways for users to make video calls over various platforms, Google today launched a new phone-based app called Duo that’s designed for simplicity.
Available for both Android and iOS smartphones, Google Duo doesn’t require anything more than a phone number to launch once the app is downloaded. Unlike Google’s Hangouts messaging, voice and video calling tool, people don’t even need Google accounts to use Duo.
Announced earlier this year at Google’s I/O developer conference, Duo offers end-to-end encryption and a unique feature called Knock Knock that lets users see real-time, live video previews of callers before they pick up their calls. However, Duo doesn’t support video calls on any device other than phones and doesn’t support group calls, so it remains to be seen whether the app can compete against Hangouts, Microsoft’s Skype or Apple’s FaceTime.
More Spontaneity, Less Complexity
“Video calling is the next best thing to being with someone in person, but too often it can be a frustrating or complicated experience,” principal software engineer Justin Uberti wrote yesterday on Google’s official blog. “You shouldn’t have to worry about whether your call will connect, or if your friend is using the same type of device as you are. It’s no wonder that nearly half of us never make video calls on mobile.”
Designed to take the “complexity out of video calling,” Duo lets a user start a video call with just one tap, Uberti said. It also adapts to changing network speeds and conditions and can automatically switch from Wi-Fi to cellular data if a caller starts a chat at home and then heads outside, he said.
The Knock Knock feature was created to “make calls feel more like an invitation rather than an interruption,” Uberti noted. “Knock Knock makes video calling more spontaneous and welcoming, helping you connect with the person before you even pick up.”
Why Not Just Improve Hangouts?
Rolling out worldwide over the next few days, Duo is already earning a thumbs-up from a number of reviewers who are giving the app points for simplicity and ease of use. However, it’s also raised questions about why Google would come out with yet another app for messaging rather than improve an existing one like Hangouts for wider use.
“Hangouts is generally neglected and mismanaged, but pushing users away from Hangouts and toward a less fully featured product doesn’t feel like a good answer,” a review today in Ars Technica noted.
Several users on Y Combinator’s Hacker News forum agreed. “Instead of releasing a new app like Duo, they should have first fixed performance issues with Hangouts and added this as an update,” one user said in a blog post.
An increasing number of smartphone owners are using their devices for video calls or chats, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty-seven percent of those in the U.S. ages 18 and up said they participated in phone-based video calls or chats in 2015, compared to 33% in 2013.