Alphabet and the plethora of messenger apps

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Almost from the moment Steve Jobs passed away, technology pundits have been hounding Apple over its lack of innovation. It is almost as if Steve Jobs was the puppet master who sparked every idea and controlled his engineer’s every coding move. The truth is Steve Jobs had a brilliant way of looking at a piece of equipment understanding almost immediately how a human would interact with it if there were a computer inside. Apple’s problem now is in the nearly five years since Jobs’ death practically every device, appliance, and piece of apparel has had a computer installed. The world isn’t as ripe for techno-upgrades. It’s no longer about innovation, but iteration, and that is Alphabet’s bread and butter.

When you get right down to it, Alphabet (formerly Google) has not really invented much. Web search, social networks, email and device-to-screen content sharing all existed years before Alphabet waded into their waters. YouTube, Alphabet’s sexiest property, wasn’t even built in house and it too was a variation of pre-existing services. The truth of the matter is if Steve Jobs was a one-man tech remix master, Alphabet is a legion of remixers. Someone else might have invented a product, but the Alphabet hoard will run that product through a systematic iteration process remixing it to near perfection.

Take for instance, the messenger application. Seems like a pretty basic idea; I have a thought or piece of content to share with someone else, I will send it to them through my device. Well since the turn of the millennium, messenger applications have gone from simple text messaging to instant video sharing, communique-destructing, animated image sending, hyper-encrypted communicators. If that’s not enough there are literally hundreds of platforms to choose from including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Yik Yak, Whisper, and Omegle (to name only a very few). Alphabet’s main messenger service, Hangouts, can do almost anything its peers can, but in 5 years of existence it has never taken off. So what does Alphabet do? Start from scratch.

Last month at Alphabet’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, three new messenger applications were unveiled; Allo, Duo, and Messenger. Now the easy, cynical response to piling three new applications on top of a floundering single application is saying Alphabet is chasing its own losing tail. But a closer look reveals this is Alphabet just doing the Alphabet thing; if something can be done better than do it better. All three new apps are basically rebrandings of existing Google services in more user friendly packages. Allo takes the features of Google Now (an popular android assistant that responds to saying “Okay Google” to your phone) and puts it in a stand alone application. Duo exacts the video calling feature from Hangouts so users are confused as to how to video chat through Alphabet. Messenger is simply a stock text messenger app but removes the confusion of whether the user is routing messages through the internet like Hangouts or through a cellular network.

Of course, it is impossible to overlook the glut of messaging tools in the Alphabet techverse. Besides Allo, Duo, Messenger, and Hangouts there is also Gmail, Drive chat, a forthcoming YouTube direct messaging service, and Google Plus. Why does one network of services have so many chat tools? Well… Us. Users are skeptical of privacy when chatting across platforms, not to mention ignorant as to what services work together. Whether or not users embrace the new Alphabet messaging applications is irrelevant, for one only look at its track record to know when Alphabet gets it right, the tech masses come running.

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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