Google has quietly launched the new Areo app on Google Play in India, without any official statement regarding its release. Areo is a local services application that allows you to pay bills, order food, call a plumber to fix your sink, or have a beautician come over to give you a facial.
And although Google has the contact details of all these different services through the database it builds for Google Maps, it's not using its own muscle to make this work. Instead, it has used the Google Areo app to bundle together different services. So, for example, in the food delivery section you can flip between Freshmenu, Faasos, and Box8. For other categories such as beauty and repairs, UrbanClap appears to be the main services provider at present.
At the time of launch, the new Areo app supported services in parts of
Delhi Mumbai and parts of Bengaluru, but naturally, this will change quickly. In Bengaluru's HSR Layout, however, these four services were the only providers available on the app, as of Thursday morning.
Using the new Google app is a pretty straightforward experience. Install it from Google Play onto your phone, and the very first screen will show you a map view, and ask you to confirm your location.
Once you've made sure that the arrow is pointing to the right place, just tap on Save Location, and you're taken to the next screen which shows the various services available via Google Areo app.
Here, you can tap on the different categories - Food delivery, Beauty, Home maintenance, and so on - which are represented with large, easy to understand tiles along with text.
In food, you will see a carousel showing the different delivery options, and below that, the items. Icons next to the price show where both cash and online payment options are available.
You can add items from multiple providers into the same cart - so you could add some items from Faasos, and some items from Freshmenu, and a facial from UrbanClap, and order them all together in the Areo app. You can pay via credit or debit cards, netbanking, or opt for cash on delivery. Each service would then undertake the delivery as usual.
The overall experience is very simple, and it certainly is a lot simpler than having to go through multiple apps. If Google can add some more services quickly, then Areo has the potential to actually be quite useful.
Google Areo frees you from having to install a dozen different apps on your phone, most of which do pretty similar functions. How many times have you scrolled through both Swiggy and Zomato Order in order to find the right dinner? And similarly, you've probably browsed through both BigBasket and Grofers in order to get your groceries.
Add to that the fact that the app looks good, is fast and uncluttered, and easy to use, and the only thing missing now is more services.
Google's entry into the local delivery space is, on the face of it, good news for a lot of companies. It's not directly competing with an UrbanClap or a Faasos - all of the information that you are getting was always just a Google Search away.
However, by aggregating it all in one place like this, Google may well make it easier to switch away from services you're loyal to, and to try out more, new things. A regular Faasos customer might start ordering from Freshmenu because those items are displayed in the same place - or vice versa.
It's also not clear how Google is making money with Areo. A commission on orders - an affiliate fee if you will - is a reasonable assumption, but if that is indeed the case, how will that affect the margins of the service providers?
On the other hand, Tapzo (formerly Helpchat) is likely to be affected as well. The company, which started off as a chat-based do-anything service, grew into an app aggregator that lets you shop, order food, recharge your phone, call a taxi, and much more all from a single home screen.
It was an interesting idea, and although it offers a number of services which Areo does not, the basic concept of bundling local services together into a single interface is the same, and that can't be good news for the Bengaluru-based company.
That said, for everyone else, such as UrbanClap, Faasos, and others that Google Areo integrates with, this is likely to be a good thing, at least for now.