Alphabet and the plethora of messenger apps6/1/2016
Almost from the moment Steve Jobs passed away, technology pundits have been hounding Apple over its lack of innovation. It is almost as if Steve Jobs was the puppet master who sparked every idea and controlled his engineer’s every coding move. The truth is, Steve Jobs had a brilliant way of looking at a piece of equipment and understanding almost immediately how a human would interact with it if there was a computer inside. Apple’s problem now is, in the nearly five years since Jobs’ death, practically every device, appliance and piece of apparel has had a computer installed. The world isn’t as ripe for techno-upgrades. It’s no longer about innovation, but iteration, and that is Alphabet’s bread and butter.
When you get right down to it, Alphabet (formerly Google) has not really invented much. Web search, social networks, email and device-to-screen content sharing all existed years before Alphabet waded into their waters. YouTube, Alphabet’s sexiest property, wasn’t even built in-house and it, too, was a variation of pre-existing services. The truth of the matter is, if Steve Jobs was a one-man tech remix master, Alphabet is a legion of remixers. Someone else might have invented a product, but the Alphabet hoard will run that product through a systematic iteration process, remixing it to near perfection.
Take the messenger application for instance. Have a thought or piece of content to share with someone else? Send it to him or her through a device. Since the turn of the millennium, messenger applications have gone from simple text messaging to instant video-sharing, communique-destructing, animated image-sending, hyper-encrypted communicators. If that’s not enough, there are literally hundreds of platforms to choose from, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Yik Yak, Whisper and Omegle (to name only a very few). Alphabet’s main messenger service, Hangouts, can do almost anything its peers can, but in five years of existence, it has never taken off. So what does Alphabet do? Start from scratch.
Last month at Alphabet’s annual developer conference — Google I/O — three new messenger applications were unveiled: Allo, Duo and Messenger. Now the easy, cynical response to piling three new applications on top of a floundering single application is to say that Alphabet is chasing its own losing tail. But a closer look reveals that this is just Alphabet doing the Alphabet thing — if something can be done better, then do it better. All three new apps are basically rebrandings of existing Google services in more user-friendly packages. Allo takes the features of Google Now (an popular Android assistant that responds to saying “Okay Google” to your phone) and puts it in a stand-alone application. Duo exacts the video-calling feature from Hangouts, so users are confused as to how to video chat through Alphabet. Messenger is simply a stock text messenger app that removes the confusion of whether the user is routing messages through the Internet — like Hangouts — or through a cellular network.
Of course, it is impossible to overlook the glut of messaging tools in the Alphabet techverse. Besides Allo, Duo, Messenger and Hangouts, there is also Gmail, Drive chat, a forthcoming YouTube direct messaging service and Google Plus. Why does one network of services have so many chat tools? Well… us. Users are skeptical of privacy when chatting across platforms, not to mention ignorant as to what services work together. Whether or not users embrace the new Alphabet messaging applications is irrelevant, for one only needs to look at its track record to know when Alphabet gets it right, the tech masses come running. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.