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Google must work hard to ensure its Duo doesn’t lack harmony

Google this week finally announced the future has arrived with the launch of Google Duo – a video calling feature for everyone.

Despite the fact Apple launched Facetime in 2010, Skype is now 12 years old, boardroom conference calls have been frustrating office workers since the early 90s and the first public videophone service was launched back in 1936 (thanks Wikipedia), there seems to be an astounding level of media excitement about the new service.

This could be the fact the summer months are upon us and rival news items include two cats fighting outside of 10 Downing Street and every Olympic sport analysed in painful detail. More likely, though, it is the promise of a new communications service that people will not only use, but have been crying out for since 80s Sci-Fi promised us its widespread availability in the “future.”

Current services in this area have huge availability flaws – limited to specific handsets or requiring paid for subscriptions. The ubiquity of Duo certainly has an advantage, but there are still many logistical issues which need to be addressed to prevent it becoming something people try once and discard thanks to poor call quality.

One of the key issues is IP calling itself, I am yet to successfully complete an app-hosted voice call in transit and don’t know anyone who has positively reviewed their experience. Video calling takes significantly more bandwidth than a standard IP voice call, so if some handsets/networks can’t deal with an IP voice call, how will they cope with a video one?

The limited abilities of the speakers and microphones on most handsets should also be a concern for Google. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I’m on a call where the other person is on speakerphone the echo is so bad I have a sneaking suspicion they are in the bathroom at the time. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case. Presumably Google is expecting to either steer a resurgence in the go-to Phones4U contract deal sweetener of hands-free kits, provide video calls with uncomfortable close-ups of people’s ears, or drive a vast improvement of standard speaker and microphone performance.

Then we have the still prevalent issue of indoor LTE coverage, patchy Wi-Fi and the other frequently-cited reasons for issues with any high-bandwidth wireless service indoors or in built up areas. Presumably Google anticipates many of these calls will be Wi-Fi calls made from domestic broadband, given that the majority of voice calls are made indoors.

However, for the service to be a real success it needs meet its own claim of being “together in the moment wherever you are”, otherwise Google’s Duo is going to end up being about as smooth as the Chuckle Brothers.

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