Google has released a simple video calling application called Google Duo for Android and iOS devices. Designed as a no-frills rival to Facebook Messenger and Apple’s FaceTime, the app was first announced at Google’s I/O Conference in May and will begin to roll out in 78 languages over the next few days. To get started, users simply download the app and can then instantly begin a video call with a single tap of the face of the person they want to call. Contacts who do not have Duo can be invited over SMS with an app download link. For video calls on the go, Duo will switch between Wi-Fi and mobile data automatically without dropping the call, Google said. The Android version of the app comes with a feature called Knock Knock, which allows call recipients to see live video of a caller before they answer the call. “Knock Knock makes video calling more spontaneous and welcoming, helping you connect with the person before you even pick up,” Google said in a statement.
Google is a late entrant into the OTT video calling game, and its offering is not revolutionary in nature. However, it has features that could make it a game-changer. Most importantly, Google is going head-to-head with mega-rival Apple’s FaceTime app, with one major difference: Duo is device-agnostic, whereas FaceTime only works between Apple devices. In general market-strategic terms, Apple has always emphasized its hardware, while Google has emphasized its universally-available operating system, Android. And of course, here Google is going Apple one better by offering its Duo app for iOS, as well.
Duo, which has few frills, is intending to appeal to consumers with signal quality and reliability. Calls are encrypted, and the resolution is automatically adjusted according to the prevailing signal strength. Google has said that it created a new protocol for Duo, which guarantees fast and secure calling, in partnership with the developers behind the open framework WebRTC. In short, by offering the FaceTime experience to the vast majority of smartphone users worldwide, across platforms, with potentially greater reliability and security, Google, is in a position to get a large chunk of the video-calling customer base and hold onto it. The fact that Google has an enormous pre-existing customer base only adds to its chances of success. For mobile operators, then, Duo represents a further challenge to its voice calling revenue streams, since video calling competes directly with voice.