Google is finally releasing its long-awaited messaging app: Allo.
Originally announced at its developers conference in May, Allo is billed as a “smart” messaging app. That’s because of its built-in Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant that can do everything from recommend nearby restaurants to answering questions you have.
Because this is a messaging app, the Google Assistant can be easily summoned to join the group conversations you’re having friends, acting as an on-hand expert to provide advice and to resolve disputes.
Allo is designed to be a counterpart to Duo, Google’s video chat app that launched in mid-August.
Business Insider got the chance to try Allo for ourselves and test out its features ahead of the launch. Here’s what it’s like to use it:
When you open the app, your conversations will appear in a list. Users can upload a photo of themselves, but otherwise, user profiles are kept pretty simple.
You can open up a conversation with the Google Assistant itself. Google tried to make the Assistant helpful and lighthearted -- as you can see, it uses a lot of emoji.
After sending a few options, you can refine your search using some of the keywords the Assistant offers, like 'cheap' or 'top rated.'
You can also ask it for other things, like the top headlines or whether you'll need an umbrella this weekend.
The Assistant works in group messages, too. You can summon it by typing '@Google' before your question.
But the Assistant is still learning, so sometimes doesn't give the best recommendations or doesn't know the answer to your query. If it's wrong, you can help it learn by giving the answer a thumbs-down and explaining why it was wrong.
Like iMessage in iOS 10, you can change the size of your message to convey your meaning, like when you're trash-talking your friends.
You can also add stickers, which were custom-designed for Allo by independent artists around the world. Some sticker packs come preloaded, or you can download more for free in the Sticker Marketplace. Our favourite pack was 'Lethargic Bliss,' which features a lazy, pizza-loving sloth.
There's also an option called 'Smart Reply' that learns your speech habits over time. When someone asks a simple question like 'How are you?' Allo will offer a few responses to choose from so you don't even have to type out an answer.
Eventually, all users will be able to draw on photos. That feature is only available for Android users right now, though.
One final cool Allo feature: Incognito mode. Messages in that mode are end-to-end encrypted and users can set a timer for how long they last -- even as short as 5 seconds. When someone sends a message in Incognito mode, there's no preview of the message on your lock screen.
Allo is free to download and available for Android and iOS devices starting today.