Google Bard AI’s addition to Messages could change the way we text forever

Google’s experimental AI chatbot Bard may be coming to the Google Messages app in the near future – and it promises to bring some major upgrades to your phone-based chats. 

Tipster Assembler Debug uncovered the feature in the beta code of the Google Messages app. The AI-enhanced features are not yet available, and Assembler Debug states that it doesn’t seem to work. However, according to leaked images, you can use Bard to help you write text messages, as well as arrange a date and craft a message calling in sick to your boss, alongside other difficult conversations. 

Bard in Google Messages could also help to translate conversations and identify images, as well as explore interests. The code suggests it could provide book recommendations and recipe ideas, too.

According to the examination of its code, the app is believed to use your location data and past chat information to help generate accurate replies. However, you can provide feedback to Bard's response with a thumbs up or down by long pressing, as well as copy, forward, and favorite its answers, thus helping the AI learn if its reply was appropriate. 

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The project codename “Penpal” was noted in a beta version (20240111_04_RC00) of the Google Messages app. According to 9to5Google’s insights of the beta code, Bard can be accessed by selecting the “New conversation” option, allowing you to select Bard as a stand-alone chat option.

You must be eighteen-years-old to use it and conversations with Bard in the Messages app are not end-to-end encrypted or treated as private, unlike messages exchanged with your contacts. So you might want to avoid sending personal or sensitive messages through the app when Bard is enabled. 

Google states that chat histories are kept for eighteen months to help enhance Bard and could be reviewed by a human, but no information is associated with your account beyond three years. Google recommends not to say anything to Bard you wouldn't want others to see. Conversations with Bard could be reviewed by Google but are not accessible to other users. However, you can delete your chat history with Bard anytime, which will take 72 hours to remove the data.

Echoes of Allo

Bard AI's inclusion into the Messages app seems slightly reminiscent of the past project Google Allo, which incorporated the Google Assistant in both stand-alone requests and chats. This service was shut down in 2019 but it could live on in some way through this Bard integration.

When asked directly Bard said: “While I can't say for certain right now, there are strong indications that I might become available with Google RCS messages in the future.” 

Bard then went on to say that integration with Google Messages was being tested in March 2023 and the functionality aligns with Bard's capabilities to process language, generate text, and answer questions, as well as summarize information making it a natural fit for enhancing messages. 

The integration of AI into messaging apps reflects many companies' eagerness to infuse AI technologies into their upcoming smartphones, with Samsung’s Galaxy AI features being a recent example. Google, however, is no stranger to AI tools in its phones with features like Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, or Live Translate all being staples of Pixel devices.

The implications of AI being added to messages are also intriguing, meaning you may never know if that thoughtful reply or fantastic date idea was thought up by a human or their AI assistant.

Although Bard’s inclusion in Google's messaging app isn’t yet available and no release date has been announced, Google could decide to not continue with the project. Google could go the Samsung route and make its functionality a subscription-based feature. However, all of this is speculation right now and we’ll have to wait to see exactly how much Bard will change the Messages app in the future.  

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WhatsApp launches self-destructing voice messages to Android and iOS

WhatsApp is officially giving users the ability to send out temporary voice messages to their contacts.

We say “officially” because this feature has actually been around for the past two months or so although it was in a beta state. People in the beta program were the only ones who had access at the time. Don’t worry about feeling like you missed out because the View Once messages, as they’re called, function exactly the same as before. Meta didn’t make any changes with the official release.

You start by holding down the record button, then swipe up to lock it. Recordings must be locked first in order to make the View Once icon (which is the number one inside the circle) appear in the bottom right-hand corner. Tap it once to activate it and a timer will be attached to the message. Hit Send and you’re done

WhatsApp's new View Once voice messages

(Image credit: Future)

A few limitations

From there, the recipient has two weeks to listen to the recording. You’ll know they’ve listened when the little receipt marker appears below the message. If they ignore it the entire time, WhatsApp will automatically delete it. Do note you’ll be unable to save, share, or forward these self-destructing voice messages. 

It is possible to restore a recording from a backed up chat room, but only if it was never opened in the first place, according to a page on WhatsApp’s support website. If it was already heard, then you’re out of luck. Another one will have to be sent.

The update is currently rolling out globally to all WhatsApp users on Android and iOS devices. Be sure to keep an eye out for the patch when it arrives over the coming days. We reached out to Meta asking if there plans to add the same feature to the desktop app. If you’re not aware, the company gave WhatsApp on desktop the ability to send self-destructing images and videos. Perhaps it’ll also receive support for temporary voice messages. This story will be updated at a later time.

While you wait, be sure to join TechRadar’s official WhatsApp channel to receive all our latest reviews and news stories right to your phone.

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Google Messages new update makes it look a bit like the iPhone’s Messages app

To commemorate one billion monthly active users, Google is introducing several new customization options on its Messages app.

What’s particularly interesting about the update is that a few of the features are reminiscent of what you find on Apple’s own Messages app. For example, you have Photomoji, allowing you to clip specific parts in a photograph and use them as emoji reactions. iOS 17 has something similar called Stickers. In Google Messages, cutouts are “saved in a special tab for reuse”, plus other people in a group chat can use the same Photomojis at any time.

The similarities don’t stop there. Google Messages is adding Profiles that let users create an introductory biography about themselves alongside their name and a picture. Its iOS counterpart would be Contact Poster. In addition, the app will now have animated Screen Effects akin to the message animations on iPhone. Unlike iOS, you can’t activate the colorful displays whenever you want as Google’s rendition requires you to enter specific “prompt words”. The full list of prompts isn’t in the announcement, although it does mention two.

Typing in “I love you” will launch a bunch of hearts. Entering “it’s snowing” would presumably cause snowflakes to fall from the top. There wasn’t a demo showcasing the latter so we can’t say for sure.

Unique inclusions

Of course, the update isn’t only about copying Apple. 

There are Voice Moods that’ll let you slap an emoji onto a voice recording, giving it extra visual flair. Additionally, Google states it’ll be “increasing the bitrate and sampling rate” on vocal messages to improve audio quality. Next, you can change the color scheme of a chat, namely the text bubbles and background, to whatever you want via Custom Bubbles. This can help you differentiate conversations so you don’t accidentally send the wrong text to your mom when it was meant for a friend.

Google Messages' new Voice Mood

(Image credit: Google)

The last two aren’t as impactful, but they can add some nice flourishes to a chat. Now when you react to a message with an emoji, a short animation called a Reaction Effect will play at the same time. Also, standalone emojis sent through the app will sport extra visual effects like sparkles.

Once you get the patch, you can try out most of these features so keep an eye out for when it eventually arrives. The two outliers are Voice Moods and Reaction Effects; both of which are currently in beta. To try those out, you’ll have to become a beta tester for Google Messages, according to the official support page.

Android update

Besides the Messages update, Google is adding new features to other Android platforms. A lot is being implemented so we’re only going to mention the more impactful additions. 

Moving forward, smartwatches running Wear OS can now control more smart appliances like vacuums and groups of smart lights. The TalkBack tool is being given an AI voice that’ll read out text descriptions to help blind people understand the content in front of them. And finally, Live Caption on smartphones will be available in more languages.

Be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2023.

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WhatsApp is testing a new self-destructing voice messages feature

WhatsApp is currently testing a View Once mode for voice messages as a “new layer of privacy” on the mobile app.

The feature functions similarly to the disappearing images and videos present on the platform. Meta is merely expanding it elsewhere. According to WABetaInfo, a new icon sporting the number one will appear in the chat bar while you record a voice note with the lock on. Tapping said icon enables the View Once mode (well it's more like Listen Once) preventing recipients from exporting, forwarding, saving, or recording messages. Once sent over, you, the sender, cannot listen to it nor can the other person play it again after the first time. It’s gone forever.  

WhatsApp Listen Once voice messages

(Image credit: Future)

As WABetaInfo points out, this tool has the potential to effectively eliminate “the risk of your personal or sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.” Messages can’t be shared with people outside the initial chat room, greatly reducing the odds “of unauthorized access.”

This update is available for both Android and iOS. If you’re interested in trying out yourself, Android users can join the Google Play Beta Program and install version 2.23.78 of the WhatsApp beta. iPhone owners can try to join the TestFlight program for WhatsApp. However, at the time of this writing it’s no longer accepting any more entrants, although it is possible a slot could open soon.

Going quiet

As for the future of WhatsApp, things will be getting a little quiet. None of the other beta features are as impactful or noteworthy as the self-destructing voice messages. Looking through WABetaInfo’s other posts, we saw that Meta is working implementing avatar reactions plus a redesigned audio and video menu for iOS. Nothing really ground-breaking.

It’s not surprising the platform is going silent at the moment as 2023 has been quite the year for WhatsApp. It’s seen multiple major updates these past 10 months or so from several quality-of-life changes to eight-person video calls on the Windows desktop app. And recently, the company began testing an AI-powered sticker generator for chats. Perhaps Meta is keeping its projects under wraps so it can kick off 2024 in a big way.

While we have you, be sure to follow TechRadar’s official WhatsApp channel. We post our latest reviews and news stories daily on there. 

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Google Messages update could be a game changer for messaging apps – here’s why

We may soon live in a world where large messaging platforms will be able to seamlessly communicate with each other. Google is taking the first step into this new world, announcing this week it will support the Message Layer Security (MLS) standard with plans to incorporate the protocol into its Messages app.

As Google points out in its Security Blog announcement, one of the annoyances concerning messaging apps is the lack of interoperability. Each platform has differing opinions on what they consider to be robust end-to-end encryption for texts. Developers don’t want to lower their “security standards to cater for the lowest common denominator and raise implementation costs”. If they did, the result would be, as Google puts it, “a spaghetti of ad hoc middleware” potentially endangering user information. MLS, however, aims to be a universal standard for everyone. It could be the solution these tech companies need.

Better interoperability

Google claims MLS “enables practical interoperability across services and platforms”. It goes on to say the protocol is “flexible enough… to address emerging threats to… [user] security”. Imagine being able to contact someone on WhatsApp and then shooting a text over to a friend on Telegram right from your messaging app of choice. You won’t need five different apps on your smartphone to stay in contact with people and you won't have to worry about a lack of security.

As stated earlier, Google Messages will one day support the new encryption protocol. In addition to the update, the company will open-source its MLS implementation into the “Android codebase.” This could result in developers having an easier time incorporating MLS into their software – if they choose to adopt it, of course. Right now, Google is the only brand that we’re aware of announcing its support. Mozilla has posted a sort-of rallying cry to its blog calling MLS an “internet standard”, but it doesn’t appear the Firefox developer plans on adding it to its browser.

Cost of doing business

There is one line in the post that we found particularly interesting. Google says it is “strongly supportive of regulatory efforts [requiring] interoperability for large end-to-end messaging platforms.” As 9To5Google points out in their report, this could be a reference to the Digital Markets Act, a law passed by the European Union last year demanding tech corporations increase the “level of interoperability between messaging services” among other things. And if they don’t comply, the violators “could be fined up to 20 percent” of global revenue for repeated offenses.

Google is willing to play by the new rules. It’s even willing to help other Android devs by open-sourcing its future MLS code. But what about Apple? Will iMessage support the protocol?

Honestly, who knows? We doubt Apple will ever want to play nice with others. It has repeatedly rebuffed Google’s advances to put RCS (Rich Communication Services) on iOS. It’s even willing to “pull iMessage from UK iPhones rather than weaken its security”. Sure, the massive EU fine could change Apple's mind or it might simply accept it as a cost of doing business in Europe. 

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WhatsApp beta now lets you send video messages – here’s how to enable it

WhatsApp is currently rolling out several new features to beta testers across different platforms – chief among them are video messages that will be available exclusively to mobile devices. 

You read that right. On top of sending audio recordings, WhatsApp will soon let you send video messages as well.

The way it currently works on beta, according to WABetaInfo, is users will have to tap the microphone button next to the chat bar where it'll turn into a new camera icon. Pressing that button lets you record a short 60-second clip, which can be shared with a contact for quick communication. 

Once the other person receives the clip, they have to tap the file to enlarge it if they “want to listen to the audio”. Otherwise, it just plays the clip muted. Basically, WhatsApp is working on introducing its version of Snapchat, but unlike Snapchat, it’s unknown if the clips will automatically delete themselves after a certain amount of time has passed or not.

WABetaInfo’s post hints at they will get deleted soon after being sent, though the post also states the videos won’t be sent under view once mode. So there may be some flexibility in how clips are sent. Like a lot of other WhatsApp content, video messages will be protected by the service’s end-to-end encryption ensuring total privacy. Be aware it won’t be possible to forward video messages to other users. They're for your eyes only.

WhatsApp video messages

(Image credit: WABetaInfo)

How to download the beta

To try out video messages, Android users will need to install the beta by joining the Google Play Store Beta Program and downloading the latest update. If you don’t get it, keep an eye for future patches. Only a handful of testers have access at this moment, but Meta will reportedly release the feature to more people over the coming weeks. Oh, and your recipients need to be a part of the program too; otherwise, the video messages won’t work.

The beta is available to iPhone users, but the iOS program is closed to new entrants. If you’re not already a part of Apple’s TestFlight service for WhatsApp, you’ll just have to wait for the official launch. 

Coming to Windows

Besides the smartphone update, WhatsApp is also rolling out some new additions to its beta app on Windows. For one, the desktop version is getting screen-sharing for video calls, something that was first seen on Android. From the looks of it, the Windows rendition functions pretty much the same way with the bottom control panel having a new screen-sharing icon. In addition, WhatsApp is introducing a call-back button for quickly returning missed calls – rather small upgrade, but still a helpful one. 

To try out these two features, all you have to do is install WhatsApp Beta from the Microsoft Store. It's that simple. 

Speaking of added convenience, it appears WhatsApp is planning on giving people the ability to have multiple accounts on a single Android device in a similar fashion to Instagram. Be sure to check out TechRadar's coverage on the future update.

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Chats in Google Messages are about to get even more secure

Google has announced that it's bringing end-to-end encryption to group chats in the Google Messages app. The security upgrade is heading to beta users first before being rolled out more widely.

End-to-end encryption means no one, not even Google, can read the content of messages. It's already supported in the Google Messages app for one-to-one chats, but now (via The Verge) it's going to be added to group conversations as well.

“End-to-end encryption is starting to roll out for group chats and will be available to some users in the open beta program over the coming weeks,” Google says. “This shouldn’t even be a thought – just an expectation and something anyone texting should not have to worry about.”

From SMS to RCS

In the same announcement blog post, Google revealed that the ability to quickly react to a message with any emoji is coming to Google Messages soon as well. At the moment, only a selection of emojis can be used as reactions.

Alongside a mention of these new features, Google also continued to push hard for RCS (Rich Communication Services) to become the new standard for everyone – the technology, an upgrade on SMS, is now widely available but has yet to be adopted by Apple on its iPhones.

Google's post also acknowledged the 30th anniversary of the SMS, a milestone which emphasizes how old the technology is as well as how overdue we now are for a standard that can fully replace it.


Analysis: SMS should really be history

The arrival of SMS three decades ago helped to transform the way that we communicate with each other – even if the messages were limited in terms of characters, and many phones could only store a limited number of texts at any one time.

Now, apps like WhatsApp and Slack have taken us far, far beyond those limitations. Messages can be much longer and include photos, videos or audio, and we can even tell when recipients have opened up the messages we send them.

It's benefits like these that make RCS a worthwhile upgrade, improving the security of messages and making features such as group chats much better. Google didn't create the standard, but it is heavily promoting it.

However, whenever an iPhone user texts an Android user, SMS is still the protocol used. Google wants that to change, but it's unlikely that Apple ever will – Apple knows that iMessage is one of the key reasons that people stick with iPhones.

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Google Docs can now help write your Gmail messages for you

Google has added a new feature to its word processing software, Docs, that it hopes will make collaborating on important business emails easier than ever.

The office software will now offer a new email template that allows users to draft messages in Google Docs but also see how they would be portrayed as a Gmail email before sending.

Typing @email in the web version of Google Docs will now launch the new template, complete with subject lines, sender and cc fields, and body text box.

Google Docs and Gmail

Once launched, you can tag other Google Workspace users through their email addresses or user names, giving them the chance to review your work and collaborate on the message.

When finished, just click on the email button next to your draft message to see the text transformed into a Gmail compose window, where all the fields will be automatically populated based on your draft text.

Google Docs and Gmail email draft

(Image credit: Google)

The company said in its blog post that the feature has already begun rolling out to Google Docs web users, with the process due to be completed over the next few weeks.

The integration will be enabled by default, and is available to all Google Workspace customers, as well as legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers.

The feature looks to be part of Google's ongoing campaign to make online collaboration a smoother experience as more and more employees embrace hybrid working.

The company revealed its smart canvas initiative in 2021, helping tie together its range of workplace apps such as Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides.

Since then, it has also introduced automatically generated summaries in Google Docs, which provide a brief overview of the main points in a document. 

Google has also launched “smart chips“, where users can use @-mentions to tag for peoples, files and meetings, along with inserting additional items such as images, tables and templates.

This was expanded recently after the company launched additional smart chips or clickable objects that pull relevant information directly into the collaboration canvas. For instance, the new maps smart chip allows you to easily preview a Google Maps link directly in Docs.

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Google Docs can now help write your Gmail messages for you

Google has added a new feature to its word processing software, Docs, that it hopes will make collaborating on important business emails easier than ever.

The office software will now offer a new email template that allows users to draft messages in Google Docs but also see how they would be portrayed as a Gmail email before sending.

Typing @email in the web version of Google Docs will now launch the new template, complete with subject lines, sender and cc fields, and body text box.

Google Docs and Gmail

Once launched, you can tag other Google Workspace users through their email addresses or user names, giving them the chance to review your work and collaborate on the message.

When finished, just click on the email button next to your draft message to see the text transformed into a Gmail compose window, where all the fields will be automatically populated based on your draft text.

Google Docs and Gmail email draft

(Image credit: Google)

The company said in its blog post that the feature has already begun rolling out to Google Docs web users, with the process due to be completed over the next few weeks.

The integration will be enabled by default, and is available to all Google Workspace customers, as well as legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers.

The feature looks to be part of Google's ongoing campaign to make online collaboration a smoother experience as more and more employees embrace hybrid working.

The company revealed its smart canvas initiative in 2021, helping tie together its range of workplace apps such as Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides.

Since then, it has also introduced automatically generated summaries in Google Docs, which provide a brief overview of the main points in a document. 

Google has also launched “smart chips“, where users can use @-mentions to tag for peoples, files and meetings, along with inserting additional items such as images, tables and templates.

This was expanded recently after the company launched additional smart chips or clickable objects that pull relevant information directly into the collaboration canvas. For instance, the new maps smart chip allows you to easily preview a Google Maps link directly in Docs.

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Microsoft Teams will let you keep your favourite messages for all to see

Being able to pin messages in Microsoft Teams should be possible very soon, the company has confirmed.

In the official entry on the Microsoft 365 roadmap,  the software giant confirmed that the ability to pin chat messages to the top of the Teams communications service is planned for February 2022.

The ability to pin messages, similar to that offered by the likes of Slack and Telegram already offer, allows users to “pin” a specific message to the top of the channel, so that it’s always visible to other participants, regardless of the number of messages that came afterward. 

Nothing for mobile yet

The feature is set to be released for Microsoft Teams on PC and Mac clients simultaneously, but there's no word on mobile platforms just yet.

For mobile, Microsoft has recently confirmed that it is planning on adding predictive text to Teams, making it harder to make spelling or grammatical errors when typing on the go. This should be particularly interesting to hybrid and remote workers, who are often forced to communicate with their co-workers and clients while on a bus or a train.

The launch will be one of a series of updates and upgrades to its online collaboration platform soon.

Elsewhere, there's also the ability to to combine business and consumer Teams accounts, hopefully putting an end to any unfortunate confusion between the two, and even the possibility of adding Microsoft's Cortana voice-recognition software to the platform.

The company also recently confirmed the launch of its walkie talkie feature in Microsoft Teams, allowing customers to use their smartphone or tablet as a walkie talkie that can work over both a cellular or wireless connection. 

Via: MSPowerUser 

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