According to a Google employee, Google Duo now comes number-free, allowing Duo users to use the service without worry over whether they have a phone number (and of course, data plan) or not. Those who live on Wi-Fi (home internet for some) can use the service free of one of its major restrictions.
Google Duo's number-free update spotted
The new change from the previous Duo setup has been spotted by way of an APK file by tech website 9to5Google. APK files often reveal what companies plan to bring forward in future updates. Companies often make APK files available to developers for free before rolling out features to everyday users for testing purposes. To see the Google Duo number-free update in an APK file means that Google is at least toying with the possibility of a number-free video chat service. Google could always discontinue the feature and decide against rolling it out (possibly in a matter of weeks or months), but in many cases, what you see with APK files is what you get in future app update releases.
Google employee confirms intention to release a number-free Duo update
An APK file spotting is one thing, but confirmation from "the horse's mouth" (in this case, a Google employee) is another. In March of last year, a comment about Google Duo's phone number restriction was met with a response from Google: "Hi everyone, Thanks for your feedback. We're working on the feature to be able to use Duo without a phone number and will let you know once it's available!" the employee wrote in a Google Duo help forum.
This statement was in response to a commenter who wanted to use Google Duo without needing a phone number to contact others, and who wanted to be able to contact others without needing their phone number in return. Perhaps the APK file spotting by 9to5Google is a good sign that Google will soon make good on its promise.
Google Duo number-free, with a restriction
While the APK file reveals that a Duo free-number update is on the way, there is some restriction to its number-free ability: that is, Duo is only number-free on the Web, not the Duo app available for download via Google Play. This means that those interested in a number-free Duo experience will have to log into Duo on the web (yes, indicated by a URL) instead of going into the convenient Android app.
Sure, this is frustrating, but hey, it's a work in progress. At least Google is bringing a coveted feature to its video chat app to make it better.
Why a number-free Google Duo makes sense
A number-free Google Duo shakes things up a bit with Google's service and keeps it competitive, but it also makes sense for other reasons. One reason pertains to the way people use Google services.
Long-time Android users are familiar with the need to sign up for a free Gmail email address when owning an Android smartphone for the first time. The Gmail email address is how one logs into Gmail and all Google apps, and that same email address helps you access all your Google contacts on every Android device. By creating a number-free Google Duo on the Web, Google is eventually bringing this same setup to its audio and video chatting app so that Duo becomes as effortless to use as every other Google app.