Last week, we came across reports that Google’s Area 120 division has been working on an AI-powered app called ‘Reply’ that will add smart and meaningful replies to your chat notifications. Google had already brought this on Inbox by Google and Gmail app, and now Reply is a standalone app compatible with other messaging applications. The search giant has started testing the beta version of the app with select Android users.
The app will work with popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Slack, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts among others. I thought of giving the app a test drive, and side loaded it on my Android smartphone, using the APK file from APKMirror, courtesy of AndroidPolice. Here’s how to set up, a look at its features, and first impressions of Google’s Reply app.
How to set up, and key features of Google Reply
After you download and install the app on your smartphone, you’ll need to sign-in with your Google credentials. Next, you will also need to grant notifications access to the app, and finally enable location too. You will need to add your home and office address (or drop location), so it can calculate the time with traffic, and suggest replies accordingly. However, the option hasn’t been activated yet for beta version.
Next, you need to turn on context awareness too. So, say you are on vacation, and it is already added to your calendar, when someone asks whether you are working or not, it will automatically respond saying you are not working and will be back on so and so date. Similarly, if you have added a meeting in your calendar for 1:00PM, and someone asks you out for lunch at 1:00PM, the app will respond accordingly.
For urgent messages or when the app detects seriousness, the app will not only make a loud noise, but also make the phone vibrate continuously to get your attention. Lastly, based on your phone’s accelerometer, the app can also detect if you are biking or in a vehicle, and respond accordingly. There is one reply called ‘sleeping’, but it is unclear how the app will detect that. It is likely that the app calculates the resting time when the phone is placed on a bed or a table.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), and sectors such as Machine Learning and Deep Learning have opened up a number of possibilities. Google has already been using AI in its Assistant and also on Pixel smartphone cameras for adding DSLR like bokeh effects to your photos. While all of that has been impressive so far, the Google Reply could be another hero product from the company.
I tested the app under different scenarios, on different messaging apps. Starting with WhatsApp, if someone texts you saying Hi or Hey, the app will offer recommendation like What’s up?. If someone asks you a question “Wanna watch at movie tomorrow night?,” it will look for any calendar appointments, and if you’re not doing anything, it will recommend replies such as “Sure, What time?, or Sure, What time?”
And then things get little exciting. I mostly reply people saying “acha or sahi hai or with a smiley” and the reply suggestions were exactly that. Of course, there is Machine Learning at work, with Google likely feeding data from other ventures such as GBoard keyboard.
Next, I also had a conversation with a colleague on Slack and the suggestions were impressive. When he asked me what time I was going to the office, the replies were “leaving now, not sure, and whenever you want.” Asking about lunch plans, well I didn’t have any, and the suggestions were similar. Surprisingly, when asked in Hindi as to when I was leaving from office, the app offered suggestions such as “7 baje, no idea, and Monday.” Monday was a bit off, but ‘7 baje’ is exactly when I leave from office every day.
I even tried it on Facebook Messenger, and when asked about a road trip, the suggestions were “Yes, sure and When?” Again, the context of the question did mention March 10, and there was no reason to suggest when, rather I would expect “not sure, or no” but as the app is in beta, we will have to give some time till the final rollout happens. Also, when asked in Hindi if I want to watch Black Panther, the reply suggestions were in Hindi, as you can see, and it is really impressive.
With usage of less than a day, I am enjoying the app and the reply suggestions it offers. They are smart, context aware and here to make things easier for you. For fast and smart replies, you can directly reply from notifications, without having to open the app and type it. It remains to be seen how much Google can improve the app over the coming months.