While I understand you wish to compete on the digital assistant front via a messaging app, you need to understand what drives people to use a messaging service. While I'm sure one day this will be all the rage, you can have a bigger impact sooner by just making your messaging products good.
When Hangouts launched, it seemed like a competitive offering. But since then it has largely withered on the vine. You can't send video, you can't send voice recordings and it's support for phone calls is extremely average. The emphasis is on making calls over cellular services and having video chats. Voice calls would get a lot more use, and while they are possible, the experience is disjointed via the desktop app. Also, the complete lack of integration from Android's Contacts app and Hangout calls is completely perplexing. Viber, Skype and I'm sure Whatsapp allow you to call contacts from your list of contacts, and yet this option is conspicuously absent for Hangouts contacts. You built the functionality but didn't think to utilise it?
If you want to get people embracing your messaging service it needs attention. Attention to updates and attention to detail, all of which is sorely lacking with the Hangouts app. You go to the trouble of verifying user's phone numbers but I'm yet to see any actual impact from going through with this process. When you've come from such a position of strength with gTalk in terms of raw active users, to let Hangouts fall by the wayside in this way feels like a real missed opportunity.
Build a great messaging service that works consistently across mobile and desktop and then worry about automation bots, because people won't stay for the bots if the messaging service is average, there are too many other reasonable services available to offer just an average experience.
- University of WollongongComputer Science, 2001 - 2005
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