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It's a familiar story: Nick Herbert, like many parents of teenagers, bought his son Ben a smartphone when he started secondary school near their home in Bromley, England, so that he could contact him and vice versa.
Ben, now 14 — like many teenagers with parents who give them smartphones — promptly used his phone to play games and post on social media, not to contact his dad. He often kept his ringer on silent and rarely responded when his dad texted him.
"As he got older, he started going out with friends more, and my messages tended to start getting missed," Herbert told TODAY Parents.
Frustrated, Herbert looked for a way to ensure Ben would see and respond when he reached out to him.
"There are times that I need to get a message to him and he has no way of knowing that the call or text he ignores or doesn't see is important or not, and I have no way of knowing if he has seen it — and I mean really seen it, and not just moved it so he can get on with his game," Herbert wrote on his website.
The messaging apps Herbert found available were too easily missed or ignored, so he began to think of creating his own.
"My thinking was that if an alarm could make a noise when the phone is on silent, then was there a way to remotely set an alarm with a message," Herbert said.
The result is Herbert's messaging app, ReplyASAP, which allows users to send messages to those connected to them through the app. When a message is sent through the app, it appears on the receiver's phone over whatever else is on their screen and makes a noise — repeatedly — until they interact with it. Then a notification is sent to the sender letting them know the message was read.
The app also allows parents to set an alarm to arrive at scheduled times in the future in case their teens need (ahem) reminders. It's effective as a safety precaution, too: Once a message is received, it sends the receiver's location to the sender, allowing parents to determine where a child is if they get lost or need to be picked up.
The app works for Herbert and Ben: When Herbert sends Ben a ReplyASAP message, Ben responds. "But other than that, no," Herbert said. We feel your pain, Dad.
But the app is not just useful for neglected and ignored parents of teenagers. Herbert said he has heard from users that the app has been helpful in other situations as well. "I've had numerous people message me saying they use it for their elderly parents," Herbert said. It also works as an alternative to separate pagers for organizations with employees on call.
ReplyASAP is undergoing a full redesign this year in an effort to make it simpler to use and easier to respond to messages, Herbert said. Currently, the app is available only on Android phones, but developing a version for iOS is his "key priority," he said.
Here's an idea: Now we need an app to help teenagers with priorities!