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    A Google R&D team wants to bring Smart Reply to all your chat apps


    Smart Reply, the clever A.I.-powered technology that automatically creates responses to your inbound messages, first debuted in Google’s email client Inbox over two years ago, before later rolling out to Gmail, Android Messages on Project Fi, and Allo. Now, a team inside Google’s internal incubator Area 120 is working to bring the Smart Reply feature to other chat applications.

    The newly announced project is simply called “Reply” and will initially be available for Android users, according to Reply’s sign-up form on the web.

    The included screenshots in Reply’s announcement (delivered to testers via email) show Reply working within Google Hangouts and Android Messages. Here, it offers suggested responses to questions like “Are you at the restaurant?” or “When can you be home?”

    The replies take into consideration the user’s current location to help with crafting the correct response – like a “yes” or “no” if you’ve arrived somewhere, or the time it will take you to drive to a given location, for example.

    Android Messages has already rolled out limited – but official – support for Smart Replies, we should note. Last month, Google announced the addition of Smart Reply within Messages for those users on its mobile phone service, Project Fi. But the feature has not been made available to all Android Messages users as of yet.

    Reply isn’t only focused on Google’s own messaging apps, though.

    According to the Area 120 announcement about the project, the plan is to offer support for Reply within a variety of mainstream chat apps, including Hangouts, Allo, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Android Messages, Skype, Twitter DMs, and Slack.

    The Area 120 project will offer its suggested replies right in the notifications from these chat apps. But to be clear, Reply does not offer a standalone app of its own – it’s just a way for people to respond to incoming messages.

    Reply will include a variety of other automated features, too. There’s a Do Not Disturb mode that switches on when you’re driving to silence your phone and alert those who message you that you can’t chat, as well as a Vacation Responder that checks your calendar on your behalf to tell people if you’re not working.

    Reply will also be able to break through your phone’s silent mode in the case of an emergency or more urgent message. For example, if a message like “We’re waiting for you!” comes in, Reply can get your attention and ask you to respond.

    The project, like all Area 120 projects, is unrelated to any broader developments at Google – in this case, that means it’s not directly tied to Google’s messaging efforts.

    It’s also very early in its development cycle, so you shouldn’t expect Reply to launch anytime soon.

    However, the idea behind the project is very promising. Smart Reply has become one of the most useful features in Gmail, especially for those with a lot of inbound, or who answer a lot of their emails on the go where typing out responses is more cumbersome. Offering similar technology across a range of apps – and potentially only for Android users – could help push some users to adopt Android over iOS; or could prompt them to move to Gmail when they see how useful Smart Reply technology can be.

    Google confirmed the experiment is in the works, but wouldn’t speak to other details like the team members building Reply at Area 120 or the time to launch.

    “One of the many projects that we’re working on within Area 120 is Reply, which suggests smart replies right in notifications from various chat apps,” a Google spokesperson said. “Like all other projects within Area 120, it’s a very early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now.”

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