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Why Google’s Acquisition of Emu Matters to the Future of Mobile Messaging

by Nitesh Patel | 8月 07, 2014

On 6th August 2014 Google acquired Emu, a mobile messaging app with an integrated virtual assistant, for an undisclosed sum. Why is this important? Real-time communication/ messaging platforms have mainly evolved in two directions.

  1. Enhancing and improving the communications experience;
  2. Evolving to become platforms for games, apps and content distribution.

What started out as a simple text messaging platform has evolved to include photo and video sharing, group messaging, push-to-talk and VoIP, and in the case of Asian communication app providers, (LINE, Kakao Talk, and WeChat) full social media hubs, that include mobile games and third-party app distribution. Like Facebook and Twitter these apps have become so popular that they have become essential communication channels between brands and advertisers.  

However, none have really evolved to include other useful day-to-day features, such as local search, integration with the calendar, recommendations and reviews of places to eat or visit. It’s quite annoying having to flit from calendar, to browser, to local search and to maps while planning to meet with friends or coordinate with work colleagues. So, if these features are integrated into the messaging experience well, they are likely to prove to be very useful and save users a lot of hassle. I highlighted Sprylogics as an enabler for integrating search and access to web content into the messaging experience in my report “How Over-The-Top Messaging Apps Are Destroying Operator Messaging,” recommending that operators, OTT messaging app companies, and handset OEMs enhance their own branded communication services by integrating similar capabilities. However, Emu claims to do more than that, bringing in A.I. to the mix. Emu, which acts as a virtual assistant, scans the message content to predict what utilities users are likely to want next, largely in line with what Gmail has attempted to do with email messages (e.g. prompting to integrate Calendar when a day of the week is keyed into the message). I think that’s a little scary to be honest and I’m a little dubious as to how accurately it can match the conversation to bring forward relevant information. That said, Emu’s promotional video is very cool and shows a slick experience.

With Emu shutting down its app on the 25th August we still don’t know how Google intends to use the technology, beyond the obvious integration into Google Hangouts or its own virtual assistant, Google Now. If integrated into Hangouts I expect it will certainly enhance the application. Will it change Hangout’s fortunes and spark a rise of WhatsApp proportions? Probably not. Trying to convince WhatsApp, LINE, or WeChat users to switch to an alternative communication platform will be a huge challenge given the momentum and scale they have achieved. That’s unlikely to stop Google from trying though. By improving its own messaging experience, impressing its users, and relying on those users to spread the word, Google is certainly moving in the right direction.

On a final note, will the other real-time messaging services attempt to follow with similar functionality? I expect they will do so in some form – the desire to provide mobile users with the most useful, and not just entertaining, messaging platform will be key to keeping users happy. 

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