Google Duo is just a creepier FaceTime

Nobody’s home, Google.
Nobody’s home, Google.
Image: Reuters/Morris Mac
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Google’s FaceTime killer seems more like a rip-off than an innovation.

Today (Aug. 16) Google announced a new video-calling app called Duo that doesn’t seem all that different to its predecessors. The app opens with a split-screen of your image and a button to initiate calls, with your recently called contacts listed next to it. Unlike Apple’s FaceTime, Duo works across Android and iOS devices.  ”You shouldn’t have to worry about whether your call will connect, or if your friend is using the same type of device as you are,” the company writes in a blog post.

Google’s main innovative feature is “Knock Knock ,” which lets you see live video of your caller before you answer, unlike Apple’s FaceTime. Google calls this “more like an invitation rather than an interruption” and “spontaneous and welcoming.”

The Snapchat-esque live video calling feature is actually pretty creepy. There’s little added value in someone seeing you before they answer your call since the only people who can utilize the feature are people in your contact list. Apple blocks the Google app from accessing its devices’ screens, so iPhone users only get an incoming call notification without the video. Android users can opt out of the feature via the app’s settings.

Google says Duo is “simple from start to finish” because it can directly access people in your phone’s contacts list. FaceTime also does this. Google also says the app is “fast and reliable” and allows people to seamlessly transition from wifi to cellular networks.  However, that only matters in poor conditions. Google’s approach came to light at this year’s I/O conference in May, when the Mountain View, California, giant announced Duo alongside chat-focused app Allo, which is yet to be released.

Even if Apple users are enticed by the cross-platform functionality–they can only make Apple-to-Apple FaceTime calls– Google still has to win over Android consumers—that’s over 80% of the worldwide smartphone market—who can use Microsoft’s Skype and Google’s own Hangouts. Plus, these platforms offer file transfers, text messaging and group calling, in addition to one-on-one calls, so “Knock Knock” won’t be enough to convert them to Duo users.