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Allo is Google's answer to Facebook Messenger

Powered by Google's machine learning algorithms, Allo is a messaging app that also helps you find answers.

Now playing: Watch this: Say hello to Allo, Google's answer to Facebook Messenger

Not hello. Allo.

An actual conversation with an early version of Allo.

James Martin/CNET

That's Google's new instant messaging app, coming this summer to Android and iOS phones. But it's not just a way to chat with friends and family, it's a place to get answers as well. Now you won't have to leave your conversation when asking Google a question.

"We believe users are switching from app to app to get that information [...] and the core of communicating with the people you care about gets lost in that deluge of information," said Amit Fulay, a Google product manager working on Allo.

So instead of Googling that restaurant name, you'll just ask Google from within Allo. You can ask Google things one-on-one, just as if you were asking a voice assistant like Siri, or you can have Google pop right into your chats with friends. "How tall is R2-D2?" Allo knows the answer is "3'7" (1.09m)."

Allo may also answer a question that's been on Google's mind lately: how to attract the next billion users. As of this year, Google has seven different products that cater to a billion users each, including Android, Gmail, Search, Maps, the Chrome web browser, YouTube and the Google Play store. But despite Google's efforts with products like Buzz, Wave and Google+, a social app has never been one of them.

Smart Reply can identify the contents of a picture in real time, and auto-generate responses you might like to use.


Meanwhile, Facebook already has 1 billion WhatsApp users and is closing in on a billion for Facebook Messenger as well. Messaging is the hot new trend. "In mobility, it's where people spend their time," said Erik Kay, a lead engineer on Allo and other Google communication products.

And sure enough, Allo looks a whole lot like Facebook Messenger at first blush -- or really most any messaging app you've seen before. But most messaging apps don't automatically suggest artificially intelligent answers to your friends and family's prompts. (Not even with " chatbots.")

With a feature called Smart Reply, Allo will attempt to recognize what they're saying, or even the pictures they share, and suggest answers you can simply tap instead of typing. In one example, Google sent us a nice macro shot of a butterfly through Allo. "Pretty" and "Beautiful butterfly!" were among the autogenerated replies we could use.

That's because Allo taps into the same machine learning network that powers Google Photos, according to the product team, and also teaches itself to reply using phrases like the ones it sees you use.

"We train it across what users are saying and build these clusters that have related meanings to them," Kay said. "Because we have these clusters, we know that "haha" and "smiley" and "LOL" are connected, or "five minutes" and "later" are connected." Then, Allo can suggest an answer that you might actually see yourself saying.

While having Google servers analyzing all your messages and photos might sound a little creepy, there's a way to opt out: A separate incognito mode provides end-to-end encryption to keep messages private.

Other features: The ability to share photos directly from your phone's camera roll, loads of sticker packs (a popular messenger app feature) and the ability to "whisper" and "shout" in a text-based conversation simply by dragging an arrow up or down to quickly change the font size of any given message.

Like many other modern mobile messaging platforms, Allo requires users to register with their phone numbers rather than email addresses, and uses them to populates their contact lists with people they already know. But it's new for Google, whose previous platforms (like Google Hangouts) were based on email addresses instead of phones.

Speaking of Google Hangouts, Kay said it will stick around. "Hangouts continues to be an important part of our product lineup," he said. "It's how we communicate within Google and how we get things done."