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Google shows off Duo, its new HD video calling app and answer to Apple’s FaceTime

TechCrunch TechCrunch 18/05/2016 Ingrid Lunden

Some have criticised Google for falling behind when it comes to social networking and new communications services, but the company is how working hard to catch up. Today, the company announced a new video calling app called Duo — a high-definition app for Android and iOS devices.

Duo was unveiled on the heels of Allo, Google’s new smart messaging app. Why the decision to launch two separate apps? A couple of reasons, it seems. The first is to keep the experiences simple and lightweight; and the second: to do something a little different from the rest of the pack. Facebook, for example, has supercharged Messenger with smart bots, as well as voice and video calling and more on top of its basic text messaging service.

While Allo is focused on interacting with Google’s assistant bot and with potentially many friends and may be more comparable to something like Messenger, Duo’s comparison is something more like Apple’s FaceTime: you use it for one-on-one conversations.

With the app only due to go live later this year — likely this summer, similar to Allo — among the details that Google is making public today is a preview feature, which gives users a real-time image of the person calling you before the call is actually connected. Google calls this Knock Knock.

The other thing that Duo is touting is the engineering that has gone into making the video in the app work. Google says it will work the same whether your network is superfast or patchy. This in itself, if it really bears out, would be amazing for anyone who has cursed his or her way through a bad Hangout or Skype call.

Duo was built by the same team that created WebRTC, engineering director Erik Kay said today on stage at I/O, and it was built on a new programming protocol, Quic, which it unveiled last year as a route to speeding up data-heavy applications that travel over the web.

While Google tells me that Hangouts will continue to exist as its own mobile app even with the launch of Duo and Allo, the fact that Hangouts comes with a history — some good, some bad — may also be why Google opted for a completely different branding and experience for Duo.

As with Allo, Duo will let you connect with users in your phone book, offering us one more way to bypass our mobile carriers when making calls. It’s unclear whether it will interoperate with other video services.

While Allo was uncovered months before now, it looks like Google has managed to keep Duo under wraps, with the only leak about an upcoming video app in recent times being of a Periscope-like competitor.

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