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Google's video calling app goes live

Google Duo is now available to both Android and Apple users, unlike the iOS equivalent, FaceTime.

Google Duo is now available to both Android and Apple users, unlike the iOS equivalent, FaceTime.

Alphabet's Google has released a video calling app, Google Duo, which will be rolled out to Android and iOS app stores worldwide this week.

The app allows for face-to-face video communication through smartphones.

Google Duo is differentiated from Apple's Facetime, as it allows users to video call anyone no matter their device. Facetime only allows iPhone owners to call other iPhone owners.

"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," says Justin Uberti, principal software engineer at Google.

"It's no wonder that nearly half of us never make video calls on mobile."

This is Google's second play at video-calling. It previously introduced Google Hangouts, which was similar to Microsoft's Skype. The product was mainly used on desktop and allowed for numerous people to join the conversation.

Duo is far simpler and is to be used on mobile in one-to-one visual interactions.

Google has stripped its video-calling app to the bare minimum. When opening it, video of the user's own face will appear, with a call button at the bottom of the screen. Tapping the button takes the user to a list of phone contacts − those who have the app installed and those who haven't (there is the option to invite them to download it).

No interruptions

Google says it has optimised Duo to connect faster than other video apps, and to ensure the conversation stays in sync.

Uberti says the app is fast and reliable: "We've built Duo… so that video calls connect quickly and work well even on slower networks," such as 2G.

Call quality adjusts to changing network conditions, he explains. When bandwidth is limited, the app will reduce the resolution to keep the call going. When bandwidth is good, the calls will be in HD video (up to 720p) and audio.

Duo will also switch between WiFi and cellular data automatically without dropping the call.

To use Duo, all that is required is a phone number, not a Gmail account.

Who's there?

A differentiating feature of Google Duo is the live video preview of the caller that is displayed before the call is answered. This is to make the calls feel more like an ‘invitation' rather than an ‘interruption', the company says.

The feature, called Knock Knock, lets users see live video of the caller before they answer. Uberti says this gives users a sense of what the caller is up to and what they want to chat about.

Once answered, Duo seamlessly transitions into the call.

This feature can be switched off, and only works on iOS if the app is already open on the user's phone.

Other features include end-to-end encryption, availability in 78 languages, and the ability to swop between front and back cameras during the call by swiping across the screen. This lets the caller show the other person what is in front of them without twisting the phone around.

Facebook Messenger and SnapChat both have video-calling offerings too.

Google Duo was first announced at the Google developer conference in May.

At the same conference, another messaging app, Google Allo, was also announced. Google has not said when this app, which gives users complete creative control of their messages, will be available.


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