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Duo Is the Cross-Platform Video Calling App Google Should Have Made Years Ago

Hangouts tried, but Duo could be the easiest way to make video calls between Android and iPhone.

Making video calls between Android and iPhone just got a lot easier.

Three months after its introduction at I/O 2016, Google on Tuesday released Duo, a dedicated video calling app that's available for both Android and iPhone. Think of Duo as a cross-platform version of FaceTime, the video calling app that Steve Jobs introduced in 2010 (and that helped quell an attempted coup in Turkey just a few weeks ago). Since FaceTime exclusively works for Apple devices (including the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers), it's positively useless for Apple users who want to video chat with friends on Android—and don't hold your breath waiting for FaceTime or its text-based cousin iMessage to come to Android anytime soon.


Like Snapchat, launching Duo immediately opens your smartphone's camera, where a single button labeled "Video call" begs to be tapped. Do it! Once you do, your contact list pops up: If the person you want to call already has Duo installed you simply tap their name and the call initiates. If the person doesn't have Duo installed, tapping their name sends them an SMS text message inviting them to download the app.

And that's pretty much it. If it sounds simple that's because it is. Unlike other messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, where you technically can make cross-platform video calls but have to navigate through a sea of menus to find the option to do so, Duo's simplicity is a welcome change of pace.

It's so simple to use you wonder why Google didn't try something like this before. Well it did, kinda, with Hangouts some five years ago, which is an eternity in tech. Like Duo, Hangouts was supposed to be the end-all, be-all in cross-platform video calling, but for a variety of reasons, including its initial close integration with Google+ (remember that?), it never quite took off. Nowadays, Google is positioning Hangouts for its enterprise customers, and I have a sneaking suspicion that many people hovering right around the age of 30 still use the app, tucked away in the corner of their Gmail window, to chat with their significant others throughout the day.

One early criticism of note, and even this is nitpicky: Duo is mobile-only, which means that there's no desktop app available at launch. That makes sense given that more people access the internet on smartphones than they do on traditional computers, but does mean that you can't, say, strike up a video call on your MacBook with someone who's using a Galaxy S7, nor can you make a laptop-to-laptop video call. Duo is very clearly designed for a mobile world, but having the ability to start or take a video call on my laptop would make the app just that much more compelling.

Until then, there's always old fashioned email when I need to get someone's attention regardless of device or platform.