Snapchat and Slack may one day be martyred for their attempts to improve the way we communicate, but their legacies are already secured. Both face David vs. Goliath battles to stave off copycat attacks from giants like Microsoft and Facebook, but they’ve already brought about change.
Snapchat’s innovative use of imagery and digital tricks have forced Microsoft to give Skype a much-needed update and inspired Facebook to overhaul Instagram. Likewise, Slack’s revolutionary approach to instant collaboration in the workplace has transformed Skype for Business into a better product.
Google, however, has found a way to insulate itself from any such marauding video calling start-ups by installing its own app, Duo, as a built-in feature of Android smartphones. Just as FaceTime ships with every iPhone, so Google Duo for Android and its simplistic approach to video calling will now be the default video service of iOS’s chief competitor.
But FaceTime and Duo are two of the least innovative examples of video calling currently on offer, and it would be a shame if their omnipresence prevents a Snapchat or Slack revolution from happening in the world of personal video communication.
Google Duo for Android Is Making Video Calling Easier
Google’s strategy here is a simple one–we’ll make video calling easy (or easier now that most of us are familiar with the concept) so you won’t need to look elsewhere. As of October, It started rolling out Duo as an integrated feature within its own stable of devices, Android One, Nexus, and Pixel. That means you can make a video call as soon as you unwrap your phone, just as you can make an audio call or text message. If you and your contact both have Duo, or your carrier uses ViLTE, an enhanced video codec, then a video call icon will appear alongside their name and you can launch a video chat instantly.
What’s more exciting is the promise that, eventually, contacts will be able to switch between video and audio calls during a live conversation–if you’ve ever interrupted a call to send a photo explaining how great your new car looks, you’ll appreciate how this will improve matters. Of course, you can already do all of this by just downloading the Duo app now. It only takes an extra click to launch the traditional app.
But our issue with Google’s big gift is the fact that Duo is a very basic video caller that doesn’t add a whole lot to your smartphone’s capabilities.
Duo’s Video Calling Basics
VC Daily reviewed the Duo app shortly after it was launched in 2016, and our verdict stands. It’s strictly a single caller experience and has no messaging or social media integration, which is a shame. However, it can automatically switch between wifi and mobile networks, asks nothing of you but your phone number, and it has a novel, live-streamed video greeting whenever you make a call, all of which we do like.
Basically, Duo is all about the video calling basics. You call one friend at a time, they get a live video of you waiting for them to answer, and then you chat face-to-face. It’s FaceTime, with the bonus of being available across Android and iOS. Or you could see it as Skype without group calling, or messaging, or translation, or file sharing or…you get the idea.
You’re missing out on the advanced features other video calling platforms offer if you use nothing but Duo. And if it comes pre-packaged with the most popular Android phones on the market, there’s a chance a lot of people won’t realize what they’re missing.
Samsung: The Key to Android’s Success
While brands like Google and Apple may have more sizzle, Samsung is by far the biggest name in smartphones. Its devices outsell its two biggest global rivals, Apple and Huawei, by two-to-one, and it has a 20% market share around the world.
Google has stated it hopes to offer Duo as a standard feature in other Android OS phones soon, and Samsung is likely the brand they’re wooing. If Duo becomes Samsung’s default video caller, that would leave most Android users in the same boat iPhone owners currently occupy with FaceTime’s limited offering. Yes, it works, but there’s much more out there.
If Android users always default to Duo, will they ever experience the instant, anyone-to-anyone browser-based calling of Appear.in? Would they get to try the alternative presentation of Join.Me, or the multi-tasking potential of Kik? What about the shared media streaming available in ooVoo or Airtime? These are video calling innovations that may well be pushed to the side if FaceTime and Duo are left to define the field.
Just as startups Snapchat and Slack have forced tech giants Microsoft and Facebook to improve their services, so too do we need new video calling apps to push the biggest brands to innovate and improve. That gets more unlikely every time someone opens a new phone with a bland video calling platform already in place.