Google is again trying to find another way to develop a texting service that can rival the likes of iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. The company told the Verge on Thursday that it is “pausing investment” in Allo, its latest messaging app launched in 2016, and will instead be focusing on an alternative to SMS called “Chat.” Google has reportedly been courting cellphone carriers to replace SMS, the default service for cellphones, with Chat in order to finally provide Android users with decent texting functionality.
Trying to convince major carriers to adopt a new standard seems like a lot of work for a company that already had a perfectly good messaging service with Gchat, which Google inexplicably dumped in 2017 for Hangouts. The charm of Gchat, as Gizmodo argued in its eulogy at the time, was that it just sent messages and facilitated video calls without much fuss. Left in its place was a jumble of other apps, like Allo, Duo, and Hangouts, which never managed to recapture the popularity and simplicity of Gchat.
As Lily Hay Newman previously pointed out in Slate, Gchat could have eventually matured into a formidable rival to Slack. It had many of the instant messaging features that workplaces rely on now for inter-office communication, but users and Google itself didn’t recognize the potential for this kind of service beyond socializing.
Fewer than 50 million people have installed Allo, while Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp both have user bases of over a billion members. Now that Google realizes that Allo doesn’t have much of a future attracting more people, the company is taking a step back to again reassess its strategy. Yet, it’s unlikely that the company will be able to recreate the lost opportunity that was Gchat.