No Google account needed to use the free service, which enables video calling from phone number to phone number regardless of hardware platform.

Share story

Google’s latest mobile service lets anyone place a video call to anyone else, without requiring similar hardware — and it was built in Kirkland.

Duo, plans for which Google first announced in May, will be available on iOS and Android devices starting Tuesday morning. It will be live throughout the world in the next few days.

The free service enables video calling from phone number to phone number, no Google account needed. That may make it easier for those who want to call between an Android and an iPhone or an Android and an Android, and so can’t use Apple’s product FaceTime.

Google joins dozens of other services that offer free video calling, from giants such as Microsoft Skype to smaller firms like Viber.

A small team in Kirkland has been building Duo for more than a year, said Amit Fulay, the lead product manager for the real-time communications unit at Google.

Google employees got to invite a few choice people to try Duo starting last spring, because, as Fulay said, “You end up using it with people who are close to you, like friends and family, not your co-workers.”

Duo gives a short preview of the incoming call by showing a short, live video of the person calling. The feature, called Knock Knock, is designed to make the call “feel like an invitation, not an interruption,” Fulay said.

Much of the work on Duo was spent making sure that calls stay reliable, even if people are moving in and out of wireless networks and areas with spotty cell reception. The video will shift to a lower definition appearance if reception degrades, but audio will stay crisp.

Google already has a video-calling function through its Hangouts chat app, but Duo should appeal to a larger group of people, Fulay said.

Hangouts, which does require a Google account, is built largely for productivity and connects to other Google services such as contacts and calendars.

Google has local offices in both Kirkland and Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, with more than 2,000 employees total in the region.

Google plans to move its Fremont office in 2019 to a new campus in South Lake Union that will have room for between 3,000 and 4,000 employees.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company recently doubled its office space in Kirkland to about 375,000 square feet. Its newest building there comes with mini-kitchens on every floor and nap caves with a Pacific Northwest theme.

The Kirkland office, with more than 1,000 employees, is home to engineers working on Hangouts, Chrome, Maps and even some testing self-driving car technology.

Google announced in February it would begin testing autonomous cars in Kirkland. The Lexus is designed to steer itself around and detect traffic and road conditions. A Google employee rides along in the car.

Google was one of the first Silicon Valley companies with a large outpost in Seattle, a trend that has boomed in recent years as growing companies hunt for qualified software developers.