Today, Google is announcing that “over the coming months” it is going to roll out Google Assistant integration into Android Messages. If you’re using it to text, a Google Assistant button might appear in the smart replies section of the app. If you tap it, it will ask the Assistant a question and give you an option to put the answer directly into your text message thread. To start, the feature is limited to English.
If you’re worried that this means that Google is going to be reading your text messages, the company says that’s not the case at all. The only information that’s sent to Google’s servers is the text of the Google Assistant button you tap. Those so-called “suggestion chips” are generated by a local analysis of what’s in the thread. So if somebody asks if you want to go to a restaurant, you’d see suggestions for maybe a pizza emoji, “yes,” and a button that searches for the restaurant.
When you tap a chip, a little Assistant box will slide up a card with information and options, one of which will be to send the results of your search back to the chat. How exactly the card will look on the receiving end is something we won’t know until it launches. Whatever it is, it will likely depend on whether the person you’re chatting with is using SMS, MMS, or RCS.
Google has been steadily adding features to Android Messages ever since it announced that it’s spinning down its consumer texting app, Allo, which is slated to go away at the end of March. After that, Google’s primary consumer texting app will be Android Messages, which supports SMS, MMS, and (depending on your carrier) RCS.
Some of those new features include the web-based client, better message search, dark mode, and easier access to multimedia stuff like your camera or GIFs.
If you’re wondering about the RCS rollout, there’s no new news to report. Google says that it’s currently available in 24 countries — though it completely depends on what carrier you have and what carrier the person you’re talking to has, and what phone they’re using, and whether they’re using an app like Android Messages or Samsung Messages that supports RCS.
That’s a lot of “ands,” …and I’m hoping that broader adoption will remove some of those. Then again, RCS doesn’t support end-to-end encryption to protect the privacy of your communications, so if all that chaos convinces you and your family to just switch to Signal, it could be a net good anyway.