Google’s Mobile Messaging Strategy

Google has been trying to improve messaging on Android by bringing in multiple apps and features to its Android platform. It looks like they have finally up with a new strategy to improve messaging on the Android platform and trying to be on the same page as Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and Whatsapp.

According to reports by Verge, Google has been working with closely with major cellphone carriers around the world to create a standard for messaging on the Android platform.  55 carriers, 11 manufacturers, and two operating system makers (Google and Microsoft) have signed up to Chat so far. They are hoping to replace SMS with “Chat”, and it’s based on a standard called the “Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services.”

Chat is a carrier-based service, not a Google service. Thus, it’s less likely to be end-to-end encrypted and will follow the same legal intercept standards as SMS. It will replace SMS and MMS with a service that works more like an instant messaging app. Chat messages will be sent via mobile data plan instead of your SMS plan. Anyone without Chat enabled or a non-Android user will receive an SMS – similar to iMessage.

Currently, the RCS landscape is fragmented and Google is trying to bring it under one umbrella. Currently, Google has four messaging apps: Hangouts, Allo, Duo, and Android Messages. With the arrival of “Chat”, we will be able to see some significant changes in the existing messaging apps of Google.

Messaging app Fatigue

Looking back into the history of Google Messaging Strategy – it has been a complicated journey over the decade. It all began with Google Talk (aka Google Chat) in 2004. A simple messaging platform that consumers loved. With the launch of Hangout in 2011, they Google believed they would be able to compete with growing messaging platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. But things didn’t go well for Google with Whatsapp reaching 1 billion messages per day, Facebook’s standalone messenger app and the launch of iMessage.

To keep Hangouts alive, they tried to integrate Google Voice and by merging other Google messaging and video chat apps. Eventually, it has now become a resourceful enterprise application which is designed to compete with Slack.

Allo is a modern consumer messaging app which has build in Assistant. It was an attempt to clone Whatsapp with a laundry list of deficiencies. The app was launched only 2 years ago, but it’s arrival was too late for widespread adoption.  The distribution of the app was also not great – it wasn’t a mandatory app for Android. It worked only on one device at a time and didn’t have an interface for desktop or laptop computers. It took almost a year to fix the desktop interface with “Allo for Web”. It also suffered from Google messaging app fatigue and its development is paused. Similarly, Google Duo – a video calling app which was excepted to compete with Skype is also expected to face the axe soon.

When you launch any product in the market, it’s important to have a growth strategy for the same. Whatsapp was successful for the same reason – they knew that consumer didn’t want to pay for SMS are were looking forward to an alternative. They linked the app to phone numbers and leveraged push notifications. Similarly, Facebook Messenger was built on Facebook which was adopted by billions.

Chat can be seen as an upgraded version of Android Messages not exactly an iMessage clone for Android. We are also hoping for a desktop version of the same. It’s a dangerous gamble, considering that the carriers can also dictate their own terms. Google has tried everything and this may be the last option. Carriers have slowly been coming on board.

With the growing popularity with messaging apps like Whatsapp, Telegram, WeChat, we can observe a decline in the use of SMS.  SMS will become irrelevant for people especially with the advent of 5G and with growing popularity of apps.

At the end of the day, the rollout of Chat is going to change the game of messaging for Google. Like Google Allo, Chat will start far, far behind the competition at launch and will need to move quickly to catch up. To make this happen, they need to have features that are superior to the existing apps in the marketplace. Also, some carriers might adopt early and some never. Some Android phones might support the service depending on the manufacturer. There are risks, but worth it.

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