Google jumped into the messaging and digital assistant spaces Wednesday at its I/O developer conference with the Allo and Duo apps, powered by Google Assistant.
Chat app Allo is a "smart messaging app that learns over time to make conversations more expressive and productive," according to a Google engineering director, Erik Kay. Duo, meanwhile, is a cross-platform video-chat app similar to FaceTime.
Both tap into Google Assistant, a platform which Google CEO Sundar Pichai described as "a conversational assistant" that will allow users to have "an ongoing, two-way dialog with Google."
About 20 percent of US Google searches are now conducted by voice, in large part because of Google's strength in natural-language processing, Pichai said, which it has spent the last decade building. "Our abilty [in natural-language processing] is far ahead of what other assistants can do," Pichai said.
That natural language aspect is what differentiates Allo from rivals like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Viber. It can serve up suggested replies based on previous conversations you've had, in language you would use. "The suggestions you see are unique to you," Kay said.
Allo can also analyze and serve up smart replies for photos. Kay displayed a photo of a dog, which produced reply suggestions like "cute dog!"
Other tricks include something called Whisper Shout, which lets you use a slider to make your responses smaller or bigger. Ink also supports drawings atop photos you send through Allo. And if you're having a conversation about where to go to dinner, Allo can pull in content from partners like OpenTable to let you make reservations without leaving the Allo app.
You can also chat with Google Assistant directly. Ask something like "did my team win?" It can produce stats for your favorite teams, and allows for follow-ups like schedules, rosters, photos, and video footage.
Kay talked up the security components of Allo including an incognito mode, end-to-end chat encryption, private notifications, and message expiration.
Duo, meanwhile, is the video companion to Allo, which Kay says performs well on slow networks. It's based on your phone number, and works for those on Android or iOS. A feature known as Knock Knock will give you a video preview of who's calling before you answer, so you can decide if you really want to engage.
Both apps arrive this summer on Android and iOS.