Google has had a long and difficult journey trying to build a messaging platform for Android. Starting with Google Chat in 2005 (better known as Google Talk), the company has had multiple app launches – and failures – over the years, including Huddle, Google Voice, Google Messenger, Hangouts (and its multiple iterations), and finally, Google Allo in 2016. However, none of these have managed to capture the market in the same way as WhatsApp and/or Facebook Messenger (both of which today boast over a billion users); the latest app, Google Allo, barely made it to 50 million downloads.
Now, it appears the company is finally throwing in the towel on efforts to build its own consumer messaging platform, focusing instead on developing a messaging protocol that can be adapted and used by various carriers, including its own Android Messages.
In a report published yesterday in The Verge, Google confirmed that it was “pausing investment” on Allo, choosing instead to focus on the development of a new service called Chat. According to Anil Sabharwal, Vice President of Communications and Photos at Google, Chat will be an evolved version of Android Messages, built on the Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol. The RCS protocol was first proposed over a decade ago, in 2007, as an evolution of the legacy SMS and MMS services, allowing for enhanced messaging capabilities over text services. Through RCS, users would send messages through their data plans, like other popular instant messaging services, and it would allow standardized texting across various Android devices and carriers.
Anil confirmed that he’ll be moving the entire team of Allo into Android Messages as Google works towards the launch of Chat. Carriers and operators have been slow to adopt RCS in the past, but Google says that it has already brought 55 operators across the world on board (including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the US, and Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone in India), along with 11 OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) – Alcatel, Asus, General Mobile, HTC, Lava, Lenovo, LG, Huawei, Intex, ZTE, and the big one – Samsung. Microsoft has also agreed to adopt the RCS standard, although there is no word yet of a native RCS-supporting chat application on Microsoft yet.
The switch of focus to RCS is a significant departure from Google’s previous efforts in the chat space. However, Allo’s failure to take off appears to have finally convinced the tech giant that it’s time for a change of pace. As Anil said to The Verge, “The product as a whole has not achieved the level of traction we’d hoped for. [...] We set out to build this thing, that it [would be] a product that we would get hundreds of millions of people to get excited about and use. And where we are, we’re not feeling like we’re on that trajectory.”
Notably, as The Verge points out, Chat will allow partner carriers and OEMs to build their own versions of RCS-supporting applications, instead of forcing them all to adopt a single application, like Apple’s iMessage. According to Anil, “We can’t do it without these [carrier and OEM] partners. We don’t believe in taking the approach that Apple does. We are fundamentally an open ecosystem. We believe in working with partners. We believe in working with our OEMs to be able to deliver a great experience.”
Will Chat succeed where Google’s myriad app experiments have failed? Anil certainly believes so, confident that Google’s changed approach to text messaging on Android will show results. He speculates, “By the end of this year, we’ll be in a really great state, and by mid-next year, we’ll be in a place where a large percentage of users [will have] this experience…This is not a three- to five-year play. Our goal is to get this level of quality messaging to our users on Android within the next couple of years.”