Google tries to play catch-up with smarter messenger with built-in artificial intelligence

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 23, 2015 19:50 IST
The new messaging app from Google will enable users to text friends or a chatbot, which will search the web and other sources for information to answer a question

Google is coming up with a smarter messenger or a chat platform with built-in artificial intelligence to play catch-up with rivals like Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber.

The Mountain View-based internet giant first played its hand at the instant messaging game as it tried to introduce Hangouts on the web and mobile platform using its Android operating system. Before Google graduated to Hangouts, it had Google Talk which allowed users to chat, make voice or video calls on the web as well as the phone.

The company changed to a cooler-looking Hangouts app with more powerful abilities like taking more than five people on video call at the same as the Android smartphone ecosystem gained pace. This was an attempt to get users way before they could access third party apps like Skype from Microsoft’s stable, WhatsApp -- which was recently acquired by Facebook or Softbank-backed Hike messenger. Hangouts is still available on both the web and Android platforms but as subscribers’ base hints, WhatsApp is more popular than the rest with over 900 million users.

The new messaging app, according to a report in WSJ, will enable users to text friends or a chatbot, which will search the web and other sources for information to answer a question. Although Google denied to comment on their plans of launching the smarter messenger, it is anybody’s guess that the search giant will use its core efficiency of the search to drive more value for consumers.

The company had clarified announcements and their significance in India just days back when Google’s Chennai-born CEO Sundar Pichai was on a two-day India visit which happens to be his first overseas visit after he assumed the lead role in the now Alphabet-run venture.

Pichai’s announcements hinted at Google using the core efficiency of being the search giant to work around hurdles specific to India and yet drive value like making maps work offline, faster searches on 2G networks among others.

Hence, it is safe to guess that Google would probably look at planting Google Now’s expertise into the messenger. Google seems to still believe in the fact that if the app was better and had better utility, consumers would stick to one app instead of using others. It could be a good enough proposition for the user as the person could chat, make voice or video calls over the internet and receive texts under one app.

WhatsApp also is on the same track as a German website revealed screenshots showing beta testing of video calls on iOS. Also, Facebook has already made progress in this arena. It aims to build M (an artificial intelligence bot) on its Messenger platform to complete various tasks, although its early stages relies on humans, who oversee the AI. Currently, Facebook’s M is in its beta phase and can complete tasks for users like ordering flowers or booking flights.

However, if data is anything to go by and recent services launched by rivals like Hike and Viber in India, who are also trying to get more users, Google might be running far behind the competition. Technically, they can have every smartphone running Android have the app pre-installed but cannot force users to use it as a default application.

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