About one year ago, Nick Fox, the executive in charge of communications at Google, asked some of his engineers what their ideal messaging app would look like if they could build it from scratch.
Today, engineer Erik Kay announced the fruits of their labor on stage at its IO developers conference: A new smart messaging app called Allo that integrates Google services like YouTube, Maps, and Search, and will serve up “smart replies” and let users of the app chat with a new virtual assistant.
The app aims to bring together all of Google’s latest research in artificial intelligence, machine learning, voice recognition, and natural language processing.
But the arrival of Allo raises an important question:
What happens to Google’s existing messaging app, Hangouts? And how does Allo fit in with the other group messaging app, Spaces, that Google launched earlier this week?
“We’re continuing to invest in Hangouts and it will remain a standalone product,” a Google spokesperson tells Business Insider.
Although the basics of Hangouts and Allo are the same – they let people communicate, funny stickers and photos included – Google won’t kill Hangouts because it thinks the two serve different purposes.
For one, Hangouts is tied to Google’s enterprise For Work products that’s aimed at business customers, and which includes Gmail and Docs, and is available on desktop. Allo, by contrast, is mobile only, doesn’t require a Gmail account, and is focused on the power of artificial intelligence.
Right now, Allo users can chat with Google’s new virtual assistant in the app, but the company also showed off an integration with OpenTable, for booking restaurants. And hinted that it plans to be very open, while not rushing into anything.
Although Google says it will continue adding new features to Hangouts and improving the product, it won’t necessarily be folding in chatbot capabilities any time soon.
Still it’s tough not to interpret the advent of Allo as a signal that Hangouts’ best days are behind it.
After all, unless you are already using Hangouts to talk to coworkers or because you need to communicate on a desktop PC, you’re probably more likely to opt for the new amped up experience and technology that Allo offers.
Google maintains that studies have shown people don’t use just one messaging app. And because Hangouts is tied to the enterprise and has loyal users, it would cause more of a hassle to get rid of it than to keep it going.
Both Hangouts and Allo fall under Fox’s purview, though Spaces is run by Bradley Horowitz, who picked up the pieces of the pulled-apart social network Google Plus.
And Google’s trio of different chat apps might not be so crazy after all, when you consider that rival Facebook has both Messenger and WhatsApp.