What is Google Allo?

A look at the messaging platform and its Google Assistant integration

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Google Allo is a smart messaging app that's available on Android, iOS, and the web. While it may seem like just another messaging platform, in competition with WhatsApp, iMessage, and others, its built-in artificial intelligence, by way of Google Assistant integration, sets it apart, as it can learn from your behavior and adapt accordingly. Allo is also distinct from many Google platforms in one fundamental way: it doesn't require a Gmail account.

In fact, it requires no email address, just a phone number. Here's what else you need to know about Google Allo.

What Allo Does

When you set up an account with Allo, you have to provide a phone number. However, the service can't be used to send SMS (plain old text messages); it uses your data to send messages. Thus, you can't set the messaging service as the default SMS client on your phone.

Once you provide your phone number, you can see who in your contacts list has an account as long as you have their phone number. You can also connect Allo with your Google account, and invite your Gmail contacts to join. To chat with Gmail contacts, you'll need their phone number, though.

You can send messages to non-Allo users as long as they have an iPhone or Android smartphone. An iPhone user receives a request message via text with a link to the App Store. Android users get a notification where they can view the message and then download the app if they choose.

You can use Allo to send voice messages to your contacts and make video calls by tapping the Duo icon in any conversation thread. Duo is Google's video messaging platform.

Allo Security and Privacy

Like Google Hangouts, all messages you send through Allo will be stored on Google's servers, though you can delete them at will.

Allo learns from your behavior and message history and offers suggestions as you type. You can opt out of the recommendations and retain your privacy by using the Incognito Messaging feature, which uses end-to-end encryption so only you and the recipient can see the content of the messages. With Incognito, you can also set expiration dates.

Messages can vanish in as quickly as five, 10, or 30 seconds or linger for as long as one minute, one hour, one day or one week. Notifications automatically hide the content of the message, so you don't have to worry about someone spying your screen. You can use Google Assistant when in this mode, as we discuss below.

Allo and Google Assistant

Google Assistant enables you to find nearby restaurants, get directions, and ask questions right from the messaging interface. All you have to do is type @google to summon the chatbot. (A chatbot is a computer program designed to mimic real-life conversation.) You can also chat one-on-one with it to get sports scores, check a flight's status, ask for a reminder, check the weather, or satiate your curiosity in real-time.

It's different from other virtual assistants like Apple's Siri in that it responds by text not by talking.

It uses natural language, answers follow up questions, and continuously learns from previous behavior to get to know users better. When you chat with the Assistant, it saves the whole thread, and you can scroll back and look for old searches and results. Smart Reply, which predicts what your response to a message might be by scanning your history, is another convenient feature.

For example, if someone asks you a question, Smart Reply will offer suggestions, such as "I don't know," or "yes or no," or pull up a related search, such as nearby restaurants, movie titles and the like. Google Assistant can also recognize photos, similar to Google Photos, but it will even suggest responses, such as "aww" when you receive a picture of a kitten, puppy, or baby or other cute nugget.

Any time you interact with the Google Assistant, you can give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down emoji to rate your experience. If you give it a thumbs-down, you can explain why you're not satisfied.

Not sure how to use this virtual assistant? Say or type "what can you do?" to explore the full range of features, which include subscriptions, answers, travel, news, weather, sports, games, going out, fun, actions, and translation.

Stickers, Doodles, and Emojis

In addition to emojis, Allo also has a collection of artist-designed stickers, including animated ones. You can also draw on and add text to photos and even change the font size for effect using the whisper/shout feature. We think the shout feature beats ALL CAPS messages, which in our opinion, are just stressful to receive. It'll also save tapping out a million exclamation points. To shout, just type your message, hold the send button, and then pull it upwards; to whisper, do the same except pull it down. You can do this with emojis in addition to texts.

Google Allo on the Web

Google has also launched a web version of Allo so that you can continue your chats at your computer. It works on Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browsers. To activate it, you'll need your smartphone. Open Allo for web in your preferred browser, and you'll see a unique QR Code. Then open Allo on your smartphone, and tap Menu > Allo for web > Scan QR Code. Scan the code and Allo for web should launch. Allo for web mirrors what's in the mobile app; if your phone runs out of battery or you quit the app, you won't be able to use the web version.

Some features aren't available on the web version. For example, you can't:

  • Connect, switch, or remove Google accounts
  • Access notification and privacy settings
  • Take a photo to embed in a chat
  • Delete a conversation
  • Block a contact