Google could kill Duo to take on Zoom — here's why

(Image credit: Google)

For a company as incredibly successful as Google, messaging apps have always been a weird weak spot. And it sure isn’t for a lack of trying, as anybody who installed Buzz, Wave, Allo, Plus or Talk will tell you. Now it appears that Duo is on the chopping block, but with the ultimate aim of making Google Meet stronger to take on Zoom.

Sources told 9to5 Google that the plan is for two messaging apps to become just the one, and it will be Meet that lives, while Duo dies. That may seem a bit harsh, but Google Meet has become incredibly popular thanks to coronavirus giving video meetings an mighty boost, and it makes sense to capitalize on its newfound popularity. 

According to the report, the change is a result of a management shake up at Google, with consumer communication services (Duo, Messages and the Android Phone app) being placed under the stewardship of G Suite boss Javier Soltero. Soltero reportedly told employees that maintaining Duo and Meet doesn’t make much sense when there’s quite so much feature overlap.

Before Duo is wound down – a process that could take up to two years – the aim is apparently to bring its consumer features across to Meet. Things like end-to-end encryption, 3D effects and contacting users via phone number.  

Apparently, the merging is known internally as “Duet” – which as code names go is actually quite clever, given the word is made up of Duo and Meet, and describes two voices combining – hopefully in perfect harmony. That said, according to 9to5 Google, “this new direction and the reduced interest in building a dedicated consumer service came as a surprise to the Duo team”, which sounds anything but harmonious. 

 Google Meet: A pandemic success story

Duo has proved reasonably popular since it was unveiled back in 2016, in part because it comes as the default video calling software on every Android phone. 

But if you accept the reasoning that only one video app can survive, then it would be mad to close Meet just as it’s taking off. It’s one of those products that can definitely be called a pandemic success story, with Google announcing back in April that the product had seen its daily usage grow 30-fold since January, with a cumulative 3 billion minutes of usage a day, and 3 million new users signing up every day – no doubt helped by its new free version. It’s not that Duo wasn’t experiencing similar growth, but not to the same level. And if Zoom can be embraced as a consumer product, then why not Meet?

It’s worth noting that Google issued a statement in response to 9to5 Google’s post, which you can read below. On the surface of it, it appears to be a denial, though the wording gives plenty of scope for wiggle room: 

“We’re fully invested in Duo, which has seen astonishing growth during the pandemic. People around the world are relying on video calling more than ever, and we have no plans to interrupt that. We’ll continue to invest in building new Duo features and delivering a delightful experience for our users, customers and partners. We brought the Duo organization under Javier Soltero’s leadership in May, and it follows that we’re looking at ways that our video calling products can improve alongside one another.”

You can make your own judgement, but we wouldn’t bet on that Duo being a standalone app indefinitely.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.