(Credit: Google/Alphabet)

At Google's I/O conference in 2016, it unexpectedly announced it was adding two more messaging apps to its already crowded collection: Duo and Allo. Duo did two-way video chats, while Allo was apparently competing against the company's own Android Messages (which itself was known as Android Messenger at the time). But unlike Android Messages, to have a convo in Allo, all participants had to be using Allo.

Allo never managed to gain a foothold, but Duo has proved a success. And with success comes new and interesting features. Just last summer, Duo added Google Assistant integration and an iPad-specific version, and now comes an upgrade to streamline video and audio messages.

SEE: What's up with WhatsApp: Is it still the cream of the messaging app crop?

In addition to live video and audio chats, Duo can record messages when a recipient is offline. When they get back online, they can check these messages like a voicemail inbox. Today, Google has updated this system to reduce the number of taps it takes to send your message. The change will start rolling out this week to both iOS and Android versions of the app.

Ordinarily, Duo makes you wait up to 60 seconds for the recipient to respond before inviting you to record a message, but the update will let you swipe down to start recording right away with your phone's selfie camera.

When you've completed your clip, which can be up to 30 seconds long, you can review it or re-record it. If you tap "Next" instead, you'll be taken to your contacts list in Duo, and your most frequently contacted people will be featured at the top of the list for easier access.

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Given that FaceTime now supports video chats for up to 32 people -- and it's pre-installed on tens of millions of iPhones and iPads sold every quarter -- it's not clear how much traction Duo will continue to have on the iOS side. But at least on Android, it remains a popular choice for two-way conversations, and your ability to preview a caller right on your lock screen before answering is a nice touch.

Android users who want to do FaceTime-like group video chats might want to try Skype. Other choices include Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, but these Facebook-owned apps have come under the shadow of their parent company's increasingly problematic relationship with our personal information.

Takeaways

  • The Google Duo two-way video chat app now has more streamlined tools for recording video and audio messages (for when the recipient is offline).
  • If Android users want to do group video chats instead, Skype is arguably the best alternative. For iOS, FaceTime now supports up to 32 different participants in iOS 12.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.