Google launched their video calling app Duo yesterday. The global roll-out began shortly after and India is among the first countries to get access to it. First announced in May at I/O, Google's annual developer conference, Duo aims to be the simplest and fastest video calling app around. And, it mostly achieves that.
The search giant has not done any Google account integration with this app, which means that Google Hangouts will live as a separate app with more advanced video calling features.
Duo hardly needs any time to set up. You just have to enter your phone number and a verification call will be sent to your phone. Once that is done, you're good to go.
You will see a Snapchat like screen with the front camera on. If you click on the call button, you can see the list of people. At the top are people already using Duo. Then there is a list of contacts who are not on the app, along with an option to invite them.
I tried calling a couple of friends from the comfort of WiFi, a moving cab and an area with 3G network. During each call, I felt no lag in the video stream. Yes, once or twice there was slight sputtering, but it wasn't ever the case that the stream was lagging by seconds.
During a call, there are only three buttons onscreen -- switch camera, mute, and end the call. This way, most of the screen space shows the stream from the other person. You can see your own stream in a circle in one corner of the screen.
One of the app's major features is called Knock Knock, which displays the video feed of the person who called you even before you take the call. Many might not find this very helpful, so Google has made this feature optional. You can go into the settings menu and switch Knock Knock off.
The great thing about Duo is the absence of hindrances. More than an app, it feels like a phone's inbuilt feature. Even though networks in India can be slow and erratic, I have faced no major problems so far. The quality of the video in WiFi and LTE is top notch.
Yesterday, I was at a location with poor network connectivity and, so, after the initiation of the call, the video stream stopped but audio remained uninterrupted.
Having said that, there are very few users on Duo as of now. It is to be seen how the servers respond to heavy traffic after more users are on-board. And that is where we will see the real test of the WebRTC standard. Google claims that this is one of the lightest and fastest compressions for video. (Ping me if you yell 'Pied Piper' at this moment.)
Duo will face stiff competition from Skype and Facetime. Skype is a mix of personal and business video calling options, and Google can beat it with its sheer size. But replacing Facetime on Apple devices would be a monumental task for the app.
Duo's product manager, Amit Fulay, suggested on his Google+ post that audio-only calling would be soon making way for Duo. The app potentially acts as a second dialler for consumers.