Apps: How smart is Google Allo?
“Do you really need another chat app?” asked Anick Jesdanun in the Associated Press. Google apparently thinks you do. Allo, the search giant’s answer to the likes of Apple Messages, WhatsApp, and Faceboo k Messenger, debuted last week for iOS and Android devices. It works more or less like its competitors, but with a twist: Allo includes the artificially intelligent chatbot Google Assistant, “who’s not shy about interjecting itself into the conversation.” For example, if someone types “Want to get sushi?” in a chat, Google Assistant might chime in with Japanese restaurant recommendations in your area. “The idea is to keep the conversation flowing, so you don’t have to constantly leave Allo to look up something else.”
Allo is “probably smarter than any messaging app you’ve ever used,” said Kurt Wagner in Recode.net. Besides fetching restaurant recommendations and movie times, it can automatically suggest replies for you based on the conversation (if a friend sends you a pic of her dog, for instance, Allo might suggest “How cute!” as a response). It will also adapt to your chat style with specific friends over time. Another perk is that you can even use Allo to message friends who don’t have the app. Those messages “are simply sent as texts.” “Allo is more than just a messenger—it’s the future of Google Search,” said Lisa Eadicicco in Time.com. You can chat with Google Assistant one-on-one, so the next time you need to look something up, “you may end up doing so via text message,” rather than turning to the search engine.
Allo does everything you’d expect a good messaging app to do, but it’s also “kind of an idiot sometimes,” said David Pierce in Wired.com. In my testing, I found that it struggled with even simple tasks, like finding a restaurant with a good cheese plate. Instead, Allo would only recommend pizza joints. When I asked for another option, Allo pointed me to “a web result for another-option.com.” Think of Allo as an overeager office intern, said Brian Chen in The New York Times. It’s always lurking in the background, ready to pipe up in an attempt to be useful, but it’s usually not. If Allo were a human looking for a job as my personal assistant, “I would politely tell the candidate to reapply after getting more experience.”
Allo also comes with a big privacy trade-off, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. Despite Google’s initial promises that Allo would offer end-to-end encryption for its messages, the app has to read and store all your messages in order for its smart assistant to work and get smarter. Users can make their messages private by turning on the app’s Incognito mode, but that also means shutting off the “smart replies” that are meant to be Allo’s main selling point. Alas, “when we let a chatbot in on all our daily interactions, we’re letting its creator in on them too.”