Over the past few months, Google has prioritized the development of its video communications products as the demand for social distancing solutions continues to increase in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the well-publicized move of making Google Meet free for all callers, today the company pushed out updates for Google Duo that expands the app's augmented reality camera effects to one-on-one video calls for iOS and Android.
The update is rolling out to iOS and Android now. Once the app is updated, the AR effects can be found under the overflow menu during an on-going video call. To commemorate the occasion, Google has added a special Mother's Day effect, so that sons and daughters can reach out their mommas this weekend.
Prior to the update, Duo gave its users the ability to record and send video messages with a limited, rotating selection of AR effects, similar to those made popular by Snapchat and Facebook. Those same effects are now extended to video calls.
Previously, only Google Pixel devices supported AR effects in Duo video calling by way of its last Feature Drop. Dubbed Duo Effects, the Animoji-style, full-face virtual masks that mirror the user's facial expressions, appear to remain exclusive for Pixel smartphones, as those effects, including dragon, fish, and robot masks, are not available in the app for other Android devices, much less on iOS.
In addition, Google unveiled a new Family Mode, which simplifies the UI to avoid accidental mutes and hang-ups while adding a doodle feature that enables callers to draw on the screen.
"Although the physical separation has been hard for all of us, Google Duo makes it easier to let family know how much we miss them, show off our latest artwork and just act silly together like we would in person," said Humberto Castaneda, product manager for Google Duo, in a blog post.
Last month, Google updated Duo with improved video call quality, expanded group calling capacity, and the introduction of a new photo capture tool for use in video calls.
With the addition of AR support in video calls, Google is playing catch-up with Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, as well as Apple's FaceTime platform, all of whom have already supported AR effects in their video call and are capable of providing the tools in group calls.
And AR has served as a revenue stream for Snapchat and Facebook with sponsored effects. Even Facebook's Portal line of smart video devices, with its family-friendly AR effects, has become a popular seller in our times of social distancing.
However, while Duo isn't the household name of its competitor's apps, with its installed base as the default video calling app pre-installed on many Android devices and its cross-platform capabilities, Duo can't be overlooked as a serious competitor in the growing mobile AR field.
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