OnePlus is introducing a new AI-powered feature to its SMS app today, one that automatically groups messages together by category — much like Gmail does for email. Additionally, traditionally plain-text SMS messages will now be displayed as visualizations to make them more readable.
The news was timed to coincide with the new OnePlus 7T smartphone, which was unveiled at an event in India earlier today alongside its new smart TV, though the “smart SMS” feature will arrive for all OnePlus devices via an over-the-air (OTA) update.
It’s worth noting here that the feature will initially only be available on OnePlus phones in India, however it will arrive in other markets including Europe, the U.S., and China at a later date. Additionally, the technology that’s powering the new feature will eventually be made available to other phonemakers too.
Anyone who uses Gmail will know that it classifies and separates inbound messages by type — Primary, Social, Promotions, and Updates. Now OnePlus is adopting a similar approach with the trusty old SMS, which in truth has barely changed since the dawn of the mobile phone era.
Inbound messages will be siloed into groups such as Promotional, Transactional, Coupons, Banking, Travel, E-Commerce, and OTP (one-time passwords), with the user then able to click in each sub-inbox to read the relevant messages.
To enable this new feature, OnePlus partnered with Gupshup, a bot and smart messaging company based in San Francisco that has previously worked with big companies including Google and Facebook’s WhatsApp.
Gupshup said that it trained its machine learning system with “millions of sample messages,” then transformed this into a model that integrates with the stock OnePlus SMS app, and which operates locally on the user’s device — no data is exchanged between the phone and remote servers.
By integrating with Gupshup’s software development kit (SDK), the OnePlus SMS app can effectively understand the meaning of individual words using natural language processing (NLP), as well as identify the context. But more than simply categorizing the SMS messages, this also allows the SMS app to analyze and extract key components of a message to display it in a more user-friendly card format, similar to what you might see in an email.
This makes important information, such as delivery times and bill due dates, stand out more. Plus certain elements of the message are interactive — a one-time password can be copied at the click of a button and then pasted into whatever app requires authentication.
At first glance, it would appear that these visualizations rely on Rich Communication Services (RCS), an emerging protocol designed to upgrade SMS to mimic most of the best features of messaging apps such as WhatsApp. However, VentureBeat is told that this new smart SMS feature has nothing to do with RCS — it’s just regular SMS, turbo-charged by Gupshup’s on-device AI.
These visualizations won’t apply to all SMS messages at first — it will only work with bill reminders, payment notifications, recharge alerts, one-time passwords, couriers, and taxi bookings — however, a Gupshup spokesperson said that it will grow to cover more categories over time.
Aside from RCS, which has been slow on the uptake, other companies are working toward bringing SMS messages into the 21st century. Having been available in India for a number of years, Microsoft recently expanded the availability of its SMS Organizer app to the U.S. and other markets — this app features a host of smart features designed to sort and declutter your inbox. The OnePlus smart SMS feature seems a little similar to this, though of course it doesn’t require a separate download — it’s integrated at the system level. A consequence of this is that you will not be able to disable this smart SMS feature if you don’t like the way it organizes your inbox.
“As part of our endeavor to share the best technology with the world, we are constantly working on bettering our user’s experience with our devices,” noted Vikas Agarwal, general manager for OnePlus India. “In another step in that direction, and as part of a first-ever rollout of India-specific features on OxygenOS, we are very excited to be partnering with Gupshup and bringing in their expertise and passion to improve the messaging experience on our devices.”
Gupshup has confirmed that its technology will eventually arrive on other handsets from multiple manufacturers, but due to confidentiality reasons, it wasn’t at liberty to disclose who they might be. But in short, SMS is about to look a lot different to millions of people around the world.