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Mobile Applications

Duo may represent Google's latest push into emerging regions

“There is no signal!” some over-serviced westerner might wail in despair while visiting a rural village. And fair enough. Consumers in Europe and North America simply expect connectivity at all times.

This means we love glorious all-singing apps with endless bells and whistles to match our limitless connectivity and electricity. But this is by no means true everywhere in the world.  

In emerging regions people are struggling. And the biggest tech behemoths like Facebook or Google have spent the last five years or so desperate to get a slice of the associated cash action. This has seen the launch of Facebook basics – which has received endless criticism – along with numerous other paired-back initiatives to boost or thrive in connectivity-lite environments.

Now Duo, which Tech Crunch describes as “a dull cross-OS FaceTime rival”, rolls out today globally on Android and iOS 9 in 78 languages and might provide an opportunity for Google to edge ahead.

“It represents Google's response to other popular video calling options, including Apple's FaceTime, Microsoft's Skype and Facebook's Messenger,” writes the BBC.

Yet it simply may not be exciting enough for the western palate. It doesn’t integrate with other similar Google products – like Hangouts. It lacks the bells and whistles of video effects. It doesn’t even offer group calling or text chat. While the one feature which represents any departure from what already exists is “knock, knock” the common-or-garden ability to see who is calling. It almost feels like it might be going backwards towards the original benefit of mobile phones.

Where it does come into its own though is the ability to strip back for emerging regions. It achieves this by optimising for limited network connections like 2G, providing the ability to seamlessly switch between wi-fi and data mid-call and even reducing video quality or switching to audio calling if the signal is weak. This is the only way many people in developing markets are likely to be able to use video – and it’s free – so it could be a hit.

On top of all this Duo fits squarely into Google’s Android One initiative which aims to provide cheap smartphones to emerging markets. And its push into this area was solidified at this year’s I/O developers’ conference (where Duo was announced).

“More and more people are getting their first smartphone, and for many of them, that smartphone will be their first computer,” Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president of engineering and product management at Google, said during this year’s I/O keynote.

It is precisely these consumers Google is so desperate to attract. And so offering them a viable means to get video chat seems like one very savvy way to go.

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