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Google’s New Messaging App Comes With a Chat Bot Helper

May 18, 2016, 6:42 PM UTC
Erik Kay speaks on stage during the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California
Erik Kay, engineering director at Google, speaks on stage during the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California, U.S. May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam - RTSEW2P
Stephen Lam — Reuters

Hello? No, “Allo!”

That’s Google’s new messaging app, which the company unveiled at its annual developer conference in Mountain View, Calif. on Wednesday.

In keeping with the latest trends in messaging apps, Allo mixes the typical features like sending emojis and photos, along with “smart” features like suggesting replies and retrieving information from services like YouTube. Using Google’s (GOOGL) image recognition and artificial intelligence technology, Allo can recognize that the photo you received is of a dog, for example, and suggest a reply like “Cute dog!”

It also lets you change the font size of your message through a slider button it calls “Whisper and Shout.” You can also draw on photos using its Ink feature.

“It learns over time to make conversations easier, more expressive, and productive” said Google engineering director Erik Kay as he introduced Allo on stage.

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Allo also comes with an internal “chat bot,” the Google Assistant that lets users chat with it like it’s a “friend.” Users can open a chat with the assistant and ask it to do things like call a friend or pull up a photo album, and ask questions like whether their favorite soccer team won its last game. Because Google has added its search and natural language processing technologies into the assistant, it will be able to learn over time which team is the user’s “favorite team” to better anticipate the necessary information to answer the question.

To handle some tasks, Google Assistant connects with other services like OpenTable for restaurant reservations, for example, and the company plans to partner with more outside services over time.

Rumors that Google was working on a “smart” messaging app first surfaced in December. At the time, not much was clear about how the app would work except that would debut amid a recent chat bot craze. Other companies like Facebook and Kik have also invested heavily in building and letting outside developers build these small software programs that automatically interact with users in conversational language and give them information like the local weather, movie reviews, and online shopping details.

Along with Allo, Google also built a video-calling app called Duo. Like competing services including Apple’s FaceTime, Skype, and Facebook Messenger, it lets users call friends quickly with the tap of a button. Its “Knock Knock” feature provides a preview of the caller’s image before accepting the video call.

Google’s Allo and Duo aren’t the company’s first messaging and video-calling products. For years, it’s had Hangouts, which lets users send messages, photos, and make calls (voice and video), albeit in a more stripped down version without “chat bots” and all the other whistles and bells.

Both Allo and Duo will be available on iOS and Android this summer.

The story has been updated with additional details about the app’s availability.