Nobody seems to be able to fight the might of network effects, not even Google.
Google has shut down Allo, the messaging app it had launched in September 2016. “Earlier this year we paused investment in Allo,” Google wrote in a blogpost. “(Now) we’ve decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages,” it added.
Google had launched Allo just over two years ago, and had positioned it as a high-tech messenger to take on WhatsApp. Allo integrated with Google Assistant to provide answers, and also had built-in capabilities for smart replies. It had a few gimmicks too which it thought would be popular, such as large emojis, and selfie clips, which were looped videos of a user’s face. Like WhatsApp, Allo integrated directly with phone numbers instead of email accounts.
Even though Allo had received a lot of attention during its launch, it had failed to ever rack up a sizable userbase. Users across the world resolutely stuck to the messaging apps they were using, such as WhatsApp in India and Brazil, WeChat in China, and Line in some parts of South East Asia. Worse, Google’s confused messaging app strategy would’ve put some people off — Google already had Hangouts, its in-email chat feature, and Google Duo, which was a video calling app. As such, Allo was unable to ever become popular enough to compete with WhatsApp.
There had been signs of trouble when in April this year, Google had said that it had been pausing investment in Allo. Allo’s shutdown announcement came today, but the app will continue to work till March 2019 and until then, users will be able to export all of their existing conversation history from the app.
Google’s failure with Allo shows how hard the messaging market is to crack if a company isn’t the first mover. In India, Hike has had much the same experience. It’s spent the last few years trying to build feature after feature to take on WhatsApp, and has been reasonably successful — as far as the app goes, Hike does have all the ammunition to take on WhatsApp. But what Hike has been unable to do is catch up to WhatsApp’s first-mover advantage — given how most people were already using WhatsApp by the time Hike was launched, it was unable to get enough people to switch to its own app. Paytm Inbox, too, has met with the same fate — it had been launched with the intention of taking on WhatsApp, but even with Paytm’s reach, has been unable to make an impact. And with Google’s own messaging solution failing to find an audience as well, it’s apparent how strong network effects really are — no amount of innovation, brand value, or even money seems to be enough to dislodge an app that was at the right place at the right time.