Duo: Google’s FaceTime Killer


Damn Google, back at it again releasing duplicate software.

It all started with Skype in 2003, when the slow-death of dial up was enough to prevent anyone from using internet dependent products. Despite patchy connections, almost constant drop of conversations and the endless time spent waiting to ‘reconnect’, video-calling caught on.

It was innovative. Never before had families, friends or business partners that were separated by distance been able to speak in real time and face-to-face. Video-calling allowed for a more intimate experience, better communication and added an extra sensory dimension to previous calling options.

Since then we’ve seen multiple other communication services offer video-calling as a choice. Facebook messenger recently added the function to its popular app, Snapchat also now offers live video-calling as part of its myriad of communication options; but still reigning supreme of video-calling is Apple’s FaceTime.
FaceTime shot to popularity because it came free, already installed on Apple products. This meant the app didn’t encroach on phone memory; nor did users have to take time to create an account. It also meant that FaceTime contacts were already stored from users address books and, best of all, it didn’t cost extra to make international calls like Skype.

FaceTime does have its drawbacks though; notably that it’s only available on Apple devices. While this played into the ‘exclusivity’ feel of Apple products, it meant both parties had to be an Apple customer – alienating a large portion of video-calling users.
This week Google announced the release of Duo; it’s new video-calling app. The software, we imagine, has been devised to infringe on the lucrative video-calling market in a bid to continue their mission of world domination. It is downloadable across iOS and Android, so it already encompasses the lost audience of FaceTime. But what, we wonder, sets it apart from its competitors such as Skype and Facebook Messenger?

According to Google’s blog Duo has three main selling points: a simple interface, it’s fast and reliable to use and it’s built with ‘human design’.

Google described Duo as ‘simple from start to finish’; all you need to get started is a phone number and it doesn’t require you to make an account. Okay, so this is a selling point, no cumbersome username and password to remember. But we’re still up against the same problem, both parties involved must have Duo downloaded – a complicating stumbling block from the beginning.

Their next selling point makes me even more dubious – ‘fast and reliable’. Put your hands up if you’ve seen these words in an app description before? Yeah, classic buzz words. All apps should be fast and reliable, it’s 2016, it should go without saying. However, Duo can switch between Wi-Fi and cellular data without dropping the video-call, which we think is pretty cool. Does this make up for having such a weak differentiator though? You decide.

Last but not least, ‘human design’. The cynic in me wants to joke about other video-calling services being built with ‘robot design’, but I’m better than that, so I won’t. Duo boasts a feature called ‘Knock Knock’ which allows you to see a live video of your caller before you answer, this way you can see what they’re up to and the reason for their call, enticing you to answer. While I appreciate this detail – it certainly is new and an interesting feature – I can’t help but think, shouldn’t you want to talk to someone video-calling you?

All in all it’s safe to say I’m sceptical, I don’t believe Duo offers enough innovation to usurp FaceTime or pose a real threat to established video-calling services. That being said, no one believed in the longevity of Snapchat and it’s now worth $20 billion. And let’s be real, Google runs the digital world so I won’t be surprised if Duo catches on.

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