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Why it is going to be really difficult for Allo to make a mark in India

What’s App, people?


Google’s ‘newest’ chat app, Allo, has been around for almost a month now. I downloaded it the day it was launched and used it for a few days (for my review and to mostly take Google Assistant for a spin) before it got relegated from my primary homescreen to a folder on my third homescreen (or, what I refer to as ‘app purgatory’ on my phone). Day before yesterday, I got the dreaded ‘your storage is low’ warning (unfortunately, I use a 16GB iPhone 6s Plus) and went into the ‘manage storage’ section in the settings to review my apps and the data they’d saved. After clearing out photos from the local storage (using the excellent Google Photos) and clearing WhatsApp family groups, my eyes fell on Allo and without even thinking twice, I tapped on ‘delete app’. Allo just didn’t fit into my messaging picture and based on what I’ve seen and read, I think that it won’t for most of the people around either. Because of one word, ‘WhatsApp’.

Personally, I’d prefer Allo over WhatsApp, any day. I don’t like using WhatsApp that much (especially on iOS where you need to have an active internet connection to even get the option to send messages) and I really think that Google has a great thing going with Google Assistant. Allo lacks a lot of features right now (a web app, chat backups, multi-device use, integration with SMS, voice/video calling, to name a few), but it has been around for a little over 1% of the time that WhatsApp has been around. It’ll surely catch up in terms of features. What it won’t be able to catch up with is the sheer amount of propagation that WhatsApp has achieved in the almost 6 years that it has been around. Today, the first app that anyone who buys a new phone installs is WhatsApp. Everyone, from the generation after me to the two generations before me is on WhatsApp. Businesses interact with their customers through WhatsApp. These days, I get more calls through WhatsApp than I get using mobile carrier services. Most importantly though, even if no other internet-based service works for you in an area with a wobbly 2G internet connection (which is the case in a large part of the country), you can always count on WhatsApp to work. To be fair, WhatsApp was also very light on features when it first launched and is still missing a couple of key features (multi-device use and SMS integration) but it was first to the market which didn’t have any mobile-first chat apps and worked well in a country where good internet speeds are still hard to find. Also, based on my experience, people usually don’t use more than two messaging apps and in India, those spots go to WhatsApp (because everyone uses it) and Facebook Messenger (because it comes bundled with the most prevalent social network in the country). iOS is still not that big a player in India but for the people who do use it, even iMessage isn’t very useful as most of the people they usually communicate with are on Android. Google now wants to make a place for itself in this space and it has started off on the wrong foot, according to me, by alienating its fanbase which stood by Hangouts through thick and thin (mostly thin). Google is asking everyone to abandon a service that they’ve been using for years and don’t have any issues with and migrate to Allo and from the looks of it, isn’t offering a much better experience (or even an on-par experience, right now). And if we know something for sure about us humans, it is that we don’t like change. At all. And I have personal experience to back that up. I tried bringing people over to Allo to try the app out (and if my WhatsApp groups are to be believed, a lot of my techy friends did so too) but didn’t see any traction whatsoever.

So, ya, I don’t think Allo is going to take off in the largest democracy in the world even if Google improves it by leaps and bounds (including improving Assistant). Google Assistant is learning Hindi to appease users but I don’t think that’ll be enough of an upgrade over WhatsApp. After all, we prefer to stay in the comfortable arms of the known over testing the murky waters of the unknown.

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