The first thing that happened when I downloaded Allo, only a few seconds after I had given Google’s new messaging app my phone number and snapped a selfie for my profile pic, is I got a cheery message from a new friend. “Hi David Pierce!” it said, in white letters on a blue bubbly background. “I’m your Google Assistant.” Then another message, because my new Google Assistant evidently understands that you should never send a single text with more than two sentences, because what is this, Dostoevsky? “I can help you find what you need and get things done,” it read. One more message about using my location, and then a little white bubble pops up on my side of the conversation: “OK, go on,” it said. So I tapped it, the button turned the aqua color of my sent messages, and Google and I were off and running.

The Google Assistant is everyone’s first friend in Allo. It’s also the most important piece of this new messaging app, which is out today for iOS and Android, because it’s precisely the thing Google hopes will separate Allo from the many messaging apps that already exist—all of which are much more popular than Allo. “We think we’re on the cusp of messaging version two,” says Nick Fox, who oversees communication products at Google. “Messaging is going from being just about sending text to really expressing yourself much more fully, much more broadly, much more naturally. And then to getting stuff done in your chats.” Google, Fox says, is perfectly positioned to help you turn your texts into something much more powerful.