In a bid to extend its contextual machine learning prowess to third-party messaging apps, Google developed its experimental “Reply” app. Even as Google was preparing to launch the app officially, it was leaked online recently, a few days ahead of the official launch. Currently available for Android, it requires a Google ID for access in India. It can be sideloaded to Android devices using the leaked APK, which can be accessed on APKMirror website. The official app can be requested by filling this Google Docs form.
The app has been shown to offer reply suggestions which are based on factors like location, previous conversations, and general recommendations. Reply claims that information from the smart phone is not stored for any other purposes. Access can be given to the app to read notifications, check the calendar, and track location to offer contextual and customized replies. The app also offers other features like Do Not Disturb that mutes the phone when it knows the user is driving, and unmutes it when it thinks the user has received an urgent message.
According to the user’s initial impressions of its functionality, Reply can offer basic replies to messages with a Yes/ No call to action - for instance, "Want to grab dinner?", location-based replies depending on the user’s mode of transport - "How much time till you get to the desired destination?", automated vacation responders, and detect keywords to assign urgency to messages - "Hi, are you working today?". The app claims that notification access is processed on the device and "deleted immediately." The Settings menu in the app allows users to enter their home and work addresses, favourite restaurants, automatic replies, and also a Spam Filter.
Reply app is initially expected to offer contextual replies on messaging apps including Hangouts, Facebook Messenger Lite, Slack, Skype, and Twitter DMs, when rolld out officially. A similar Smart Reply feature was spotted in Gboard's beta app version 6.9. This feature works with the Gboard keyboard in apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Allo, Hangouts, Android Messages, etc.