Google Duo is celebrating its fourth birthday today; well, technically it was yesterday, but weekends don’t count in the summer. While it couldn’t throw a big party with an inflatable bounce house, a trampoline, a water slide, or a creepy clown — quarantine obliges — that didn’t stop us from baking a special cake for the occasion and inviting all its friends over for a socially-distanced video chat. Allo couldn’t make it, Hangouts is still recovering from the continuous blows it has received, and only Meet showed up, parading like the latest miracle child.
Duo’s launch and progression may have been one of a few rare success stories for Google services in recent years. The phone number requirement and lack of tablet or desktop support weren’t great at first, but those limitations were slowly phased out (or are being phased out). On the upside, what Duo set out to do, it did well. It is a no-frills video calling app that anyone who’s previously used WhatsApp or Telegram and understands the concept of numbers as logins could get easily behind.
The coronavirus pandemic propelled the service’s development even further, pushing Google to up the group call limit to 32 and support them on smart displays and web, roll out plenty of fun AR filters for all occasions, add group invite links, implement a family-friendly mode, among many other improvements.
Despite all those feature additions, the interface remained simple and kept the focus on what matters: calls. It also remained true to its end-to-end encryption, and the promise of smoother chats no matter the connection. In my experience, Duo is the only video and audio calling service that is able to elegantly adapt from high-quality to low-quality bandwidth, seamlessly move between data and Wi-Fi, switch to audio-only if needed, and almost never cut a call unless it’s absolutely necessary. That’s why I always prefer it over other apps.
Sadly, recent rumors spell a dire future for Duo, with talks of Google phasing it out in favor of Meet. You’ve probably guessed my opinion on the matter already, so all I can say is that I really hope Duo lives to see its fifth birthday and beyond. It doesn’t deserve to face the same fate as Inbox, Play Music, and countless other services that Google has shut down without properly migrating their most beloved features to their supposed successors.