Google just doesn’t give a damn.
At least, not when it comes to video calling.
When your brand value is worth more than Disney and McDonalds combined, and you generate $67 billion of your $75 billion annual revenue from advertising, you can afford to get careless with a non-core project like free video calling.
How else do you explain the constant change in video calling branding and concept by Google over the past decade? We’ve gone from Google Talk, to Google Chat, to Google Voice, to Google+, to Google Hangouts, to the newcomer Google Duo.
If video calling and instant messaging was your core business you’d be testing your customer’s patience by that kind of crazy run through brands. And it gets worse. Over that journey Google has switched back and forth between all-in-one platforms and standalone apps.
For now, the tech colossus has settled on the standalone concept with Duo, a stripped down, strictly two-person video calling platform that does away with messaging, group calls, and social media integration altogether, in favor of speed and reliability.
It’s a little dull and confining, but it does come with a gimmicky new way to start a call.
What’s Different About Google Duo?
The only obvious difference between Duo and any of the major video calling platforms is its Knock Knock call greeting. When you place a video call the person on the other end can see live video of you waiting for them to answer.
You can’t see them until they accept your call, which is entirely reasonable since you’d otherwise be able to spy on anyone in your contact list at a moment’s notice. It’s a logical step forward from the username and static profile image that currently appears on most video calling services, but it’s ultimately just window dressing.
It gives the caller a chance to set the mood for the conversation, but it can be a little deflating to wave your arms in excited greeting for 30 seconds only to have your call go answered. You’re also left with the question, “Did they just avoid me because I was jumping around like a fool?”
That tomfoolery aside, the real key to Duo is the way you sign up and the way a call is carried.
Getting Started With Duo
Duo is the first Google offering to be solely connected to your phone number and not your email or social media. That’s what allows you to place a video call in two taps, just as fast as a standard audio call.
You hit the app, after you’ve downloaded it, then hit your desired contact’s name, after you’ve invited them to join Duo, and you’re instantly streaming a live image and waiting for them to pick up.
It’s quick, intuitive, user-friendly, and a far more welcome development than the Knock Knock visuals. And once you’ve got your call up and running Duo has the ability to automatically switch between Wi-Fi and mobile networks, depending on which is currently more powerful.
You can disable that function, of course, and force the system to use whichever of the two you prefer, or whichever is cheaper given data download considerations. I’ve had no problems with the quality of video calls on Duo, although I have been given a few warnings about low-strength Wi-Fi signals.
Actually, my entire Duo experience has been a pleasant one across Android and iOS. Like I described above, it is quick and easy to use, reliable, and it makes use of the entire smartphone screen to give you nice big visuals.
So it’s pleasant. That doesn’t make it necessary or even preferred.
Is Google Duo Worthwhile?
Google’s latest video calling zigzag toward a streamlined service is a little puzzling at a time when we’re becoming more and more accustomed to technologies converging on our smartphones.
Sure it’s easy to make a call, but were you laboring to get Skype or FaceTime going on your phone as it was? And now that What’sApp has added video calls, it seems cumbersome to have to use two different apps to make a call or send a quick chat message. Google actually wants you to download a dedicated app, Allo, as your messaging service.
Specialization also means giving up on more social features, like avatars, games, chat rooms, links to video and music sites, and quick posts to friends, which many new video services manage to include. Ultimately, unless you’re curious about the Knock Knock video preview, there’s nothing Duo offers you can’t find elsewhere, and with greater functionality.