At the annual I/O developer conference in April 2016, Google previewed two new mobile apps: a one-to-one video calling app called Duo, which released in mid-August, and a messaging software called Allo, which surfaced on the App Store this morning as a free download.
It sports features commonly found in messaging apps and includes a built-in Assistant, Google’s conversational artificial intelligence helper, an Incognito mode and more.
While Google originally promised Allo would only store messages transiently and in non-identifiable form, the firm’s had a change of heart as Allo logs all chats by default.
Google Allo offers features like stickers, smart canned responses, the ability to change the size of your text in chats, a private-messaging mode, Google Assistant and more.
Here are a few highlights:
- Smart Reply—Respond to messages without typing a single word. Smart Reply learns over time and suggests responses to text and photos, in your style.
- Stickers—Say it all with the perfect sticker. Stickers in Google Allo are designed by independent artists and studios from around the world.
- SHOUT or whisper—No more typing in ALL CAPS to get your point across. Say it louder or quieter by changing the size of your text with a quick swipe.
- Incognito mode—Send messages with end-to-end encryption, use private notifications to help keep your chats more discreet, and control how long your messages stick around with expiring chats.
Assistant lets you do things like book a dinner reservation, look up sports scores, settle a bet, play a game and more. Akin to the features available in Google’s Gboard iPhone keyboard, the assistant integrates with Search, Maps, YouTube and Translate.
Just add @google to your group conversation or chat one-on-one with your Assistant.
Check out the Allo teaser video.
Google Assistant built into Allo is currently a preview version.
Over the months, Assistant will make its way into other Google products. By the way, Assistant is initially available in English, with more languages coming soon.
Google offers some examples how Assistant might be helpful in Allo:
- Make plans with friends—You can easily move from discussing dinner with friends to making plans for the night, right in your chat. Just add the Assistant to your group chat and ask for movie times, local restaurants and more. You can also research travel destinations, flights and hotels together with friends.
- Get answers—Get the latest info on everything from news, weather, traffic, sports, or your upcoming flights status. Ask the Assistant to send you daily updates on the information you care about.
- Have some fun—Ask your Assistant to share that funny YouTube video or play games with friends right in your group chat — for instance you can compete to guess a movie title based on a series of emojis.
According to Russell Brandom of The Verge, Allo logs all chats by default and the records persist until you actively delete them, basically giving Google default access to a full history of conversations in the app.
According to Google, the change was made to improve the Allo assistant’s smart reply feature, which generates suggested responses to a given conversation. Like most machine learning systems, the smart replies work better with more data. As the Allo team tested those replies, they decided the performance boost from permanently stored messages was worth giving up privacy benefits of transient storage.
You can avoid the logging by using Allo’s Incognito mode, which enables end-to-end encryption and makes notifications more discreet. As mentioned, both Google Assistant and the Smart Reply feature are currently available in English only. Allo is available for both iOS and Android.