I have high hopes for this one.
While Google Allo is still fresh off the starting block, it could become the most significant chatbot messaging platform ever. Of course, for now, it does not even allow third-party participation. It’s fairly limited, and it has an uphill climb if it is going to replace WhatsApp or Messenger on your phone.
Yet, there are hopeful signs. The app already uses a Smart Reply feature that can parse out requests. It can read the context of your conversation and provide automated responses. If you receive a message about your cousin graduating from high school, for example, it will offer to say “congrats” on your behalf. This even works for photos, so Allo could presumably identify a birthday cake and offer to say Happy Birthday for you.
The Assistant is also a differentiator. It serves as a good introduction for people who want to see how a chatbot works. It has some interesting abilities. If you ask the Assistant how to tie a tie, you’ll get a picture with the instructions. If you ask about a flight, you’ll see a few options. (Too bad you can’t book the flight yet.) Like Google Now, which is sliding away into obscurity, the Assistant understands context. If you ask about the Minnesota Twins and then ask “When is their next game?” the Assistant will know you’re referring to the Twins.
It’s cool that you can ask the Assistant to send you a daily traffic report, do some math, compute the distance to the moon, look for online recipes, and tell you a joke.
Other than those features, Allo is not exactly an A.I. powerhouse. If you ask for directions, it won’t tell you much — you get a Google Map. When I tried asking about a bike trail in my area, it spit out another map. Understanding context is one thing; understanding the context of my life is another. I’d like the Assistant to be much more helpful — if I ask about a bike trail, it should offer to track the weather for me, knowing I’m probably heading there in a few days. Google is obviously in a “preview” stage with the app.
Yet, it has potential for chatbot integration. The first bot I want is something related to Gmail. I’d love to chat with a Gmail assistant. “Can you delete all of my messages from 2012?” I’d ask. Done. “How many times has my editor contacted me this year?” Boom. I could see Google adding chatbots for their router line, for Google Drive, and for many other services. Next up — I want people to talk to my Gmail chatbot instead of sending me an email.
Having chatbots from third parties that integrate with Google services is a logical next step. For example, I tend to use an NVIDIA Shield TV as my primary streaming device these days. A chatbot would be amazingly helpful. In Allo, I could ask the Shieldbot which movies will be on the Google Play store next week and it could remind me to rent them. It could tell me about brand new Shield games that match the ones I usually purchase. I’d also use it to troubleshoot problems. (I use the Shield to test Bluetooth speakers once in a while; some of them even work.)
Of course, after this, it would be great is to add a chatbot for Uber, one for Airbnb, and bots for countless other apps. Yet, what I like about Allo is that it could tie into my primary email and document management platform. It could become part of my daily routine. For me, Facebook is a logical extension of my personal life and the best way to be social in business. Yet, I work within the Google ecosystem. I want chatbots on Allo to make me super productive, save me time, and integrate with all of my apps, my home security system, and even my car.
I’m expecting this to go even further, though. This is Google, after all. Maybe Allo will become my personal assistant for an autonomous car someday, who knows?
The great challenge here is that hardly anyone I know has even started using the app. Allo could become one of those great Google missteps. I want it to succeed, mostly because I really want that Gmail chatbot and because I’m expecting Google to make a much bigger impact in the smart home of tomorrow. I’ll be curious to see how it all works out.