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Why Would Google Release an iPhone-Only Group Messaging App?

Were you tired of free, data-based messaging with apps like Beluga or GroupMe? Were you over quick and easy location sharing? In-line mobile image sharing? Push notifications? Then worry not, because Disco has come along to take away all the frills and leave your group messaging experience without any of the perks of a smartphone with a data plan.
The punchline here is that Slide - the company acquired by Google last summer - has just released an iPhone-only group messaging app that does nothing offered by all of its competition. Even Google doesn't have much to say on the topic, but maybe that's because the company behind the fastest growing mobile OS has something up its sleeve.
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Over recent months, the group messaging space has been heating up. One app after another has shown up on the scene, offering its own distinct take on what's important to mobile group communication. GroupMe, for example, offered groups that expired over time and free conference calling, for when messaging became too cumbersome. Beluga offered data messaging, rather than solely SMS, with inline image and location sharing. Both were validated in their efforts, in usage as well as funding: Beluga got bought out by Facebook while GroupMe raised $10.6 million. A number of other apps followed suit, with many of these features constituting the bare minimum. They seemingly set the bar for what users could expect from a group messaging app.
Then, along came Google's, err, Slide's entry into the field - Disco. It does none of the cool stuff that the rest of these apps do. It allows people to send and receive SMS in a group format, by creating a single number that everyone in the group can message to reach all other members of that group. There's no map, no conference calling, no image sharing, no video, no Foursquare integration, no nothing. Sure, the app is in its beta release, but it is effectively months behind every other app out there in terms of features.
Even more appalling, the app is available only on iOS and on the Web. You read that right - the group messaging app effectively put out by Google is not available for Android.
A Google spokesperson described the release as one by a separate team within Google, not by Google itself, saying that "at Google, our focus is on rapid innovation -- and the creation of small teams in which people can thrive is an example of that. We're always looking for ways to give our engineers and entrepreneurs more freedom, ownership and support."

But This Just Doesn't Add Up

Sure, we've seen Google fumble around in the world of social before. That's part of the reason it spent $182 million on Slide last August - to help "make Google services socially aware." But the sticking point here is that a small team at Google just put out a product that doesn't work on Google products. That would be more than a small misstep. Google can say that Slide is simply acting on its own and finishing up what it started, but that just doesn't make any sense. What sort of service is Slide providing by releasing a group messaging app for one of its storied arch nemeses? Does this really add up?
Not even a little.
Our best guess is that Slide, and thereby Google, is releasing Disco for iOS and looking at baking it directly in to a future version of Android. Disco, the iPhone app, is just to land something on iOS and ensure cross-platform compatibility. It's like landing sleeper units on the enemy's shore, only to awaken when your plan is fully hatched.


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