We all get a ton of notifications every day, and a vast majority of them come from messaging apps. In the past year or so, Google has made strides in making it easier to reply to emails with “Smart Replies,” and made that same tech available to the likes of Android Messages. Now, after being announced a couple of weeks ago, “Reply” is bringing that same functionality to your notifications.
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Developed by Google’s Area 120, “Reply” is an app that brings smart replies to all of your messaging apps through notifications. For example, a message may arrive asking your location or if you want to catch a movie. Reply uses AI to recognize the context and give you a set of responses that you could send back. In some cases, it’ll even let you send a location.
Originally, we thought the app’s purpose would simply be this, but it actually involves a lot more. The real power of “Reply” comes from its automation features. Reply can use the same AI it uses to give you smart replies to automatically send messages as well.
For example, Reply can “detect seriousness” in a person’s message, and automatically reply to see if it’s an urgent matter. If so, the person can respond with the word “urgent” to have the recipient’s phone make a noise, alerting them to the message even if their device is on vibrate. Another example is a bot that replies “What’s up?” In either case, the message is preceded with a robot emoji to make it clear who’s responding.
So far, I’ve been impressed with the app. It certainly has some early issues, such as potentially blocking other notifications as one of our team members discovered. However, the app’s actual functionality seems to be working well. Most of my testing so far has been with Google Voice and Slack, but Hangouts works great as well. Replies are generally on topic and fitting for the conversation, although they don’t seem quite up to the level of Gmail’s. I’d wager that the reason for this is that Reply is only pulling from your notifications, so early on, it can’t pull context from the app itself and the rest of the conversation. Over time, it might get better.
On the note of automatic replies, I’ve haven’t been able to test them in full just yet. As cool as they are, though, I can certainly see some roadblocks Google will have to work around. The “urgent” function especially will probably need some fine tuning, as friends could easily abuse it. The idea is very cool, and in my brief testing, it works exactly as described.
Currently, Reply is in a very early beta, and isn’t even officially available at the time of writing. Thus, it’s probably going to change a lot by the time Google officially launches it. However, if you want to try it out, an APK is available now to do so. If you don’t know how to install APKs, we’ve got an Android Basics tutorial available for that as well.