The OnePlus experiment is over


In a blog post to its community members – the usual forum for updating fans on its changing plans – OnePlus has announced that more resources will be shared with Oppo. It’s a move that further amplifies the message we’ve been receiving over the past couple of years: OnePlus isn’t really OnePlus anymore. 

The announcement was made by the remaining co-founder – Pete Lau – and the key part is the following: 

“As many of you know, last year I took on some additional responsibilities to oversee product strategy for both OnePlus and OPPO. Since then, we have integrated a number of our teams together with OPPO to better streamline our operations and capitalize on additional shared resources. After seeing positive impact from those changes, we’ve decided to further integrate our organization with OPPO.”

What Lau hasn’t said is exactly which departments are merging and what the reality of OnePlus looks like from now on. However, there is specific mention of having ‘more resources’ and ‘bringing faster and more stable software updates’. 

Reality check for the OnePlus experiment

When it first started out, OnePlus set itself out as being a plucky upstart company. It’s something we’ve written before, and that’s no longer news. Anyone who’s followed the company knows it. It was an experiment to see if a Chinese smartphone company could make something with broad appeal outside of China. 

It wanted to bring tech fans really powerful phones that didn’t cost a lot of money. That meant being very unconventional. To manage its inventory efficiently – and to ensure it never made too many phones (and lost lots of money) – it launched phones as an invite-only purchase to begin with.

The reward was a phone that blew the competition out of the water for a ridiculously low price, plus the feeling that you were in an exclusive club.

OnePlus also prided itself on running clean and customisable software on a phone with the latest, most powerful processor, and top notch specs. It let you do things with software that you’d have to install third party launchers for with other phones. Installing custom icon packs, or changing accent colours was pretty groundbreaking at the time. 

Eventually, after two or three generations, the OnePlus name became more widely known and it was almost as if they’d used up all of that initial market. OnePlus had bigger goals. 

It launched in more countries, started partnering with carriers and retailers to sell its phones in more traditional settings. As it started acting a bit more like a proper smartphone maker, and not just a company only those ‘in the know’ had awareness of, it had to adjust its approach. 

It started not just launching two new models a year, but offering a regular and ‘Pro’ model of each phone. It continued adding to its software, kept its promise to deliver really fast, powerful phones with clean, customisable software. But prices started going up and more competition arrived and – crucially – there didn’t seem to be as much difference between OnePlus and the rest. 

Alarm bells

It was in 2020 where we got the first, obvious signal that OnePlus was changing. Or rather, there were several red lights  flashing that told us OnePlus was no longer the OnePlus of old. 

The once independent phone company that did everything its own way and only ever launched high-end flagship-powered phones launched a mid-ranger: the Nord. 

In and of itself, the first Nord held true to those values of offering great performance at a low price. But it was quickly followed by two more, cheaper Nords: N10 and N100. Neither were anything close to flagship power, and – in truth – looked little different to everything else in its price-range. 

It was like OnePlus just decided it wasn’t going to stick to its core values anymore. It was going to increase its sales figures the same way every other big phone maker does: sell lots of phones at different prices to cover every segment of the market. 

Between July 2020 and June 2021, OnePlus has launched eight phones. While a follow up to the N100 – called the N200 – has been confirmed too. That’s as many phones as it launched between 2014 – 2018. It also launched a cheap and cheerful smartwatch, but the less said about that, the better. 

But the truth is, it has worked. The first Nord was one of OnePlus’ best-selling phones in Europe, while the N10 and N100 were top sellers in the States with T-Mobile and MetroPCS. The approach was working. 

Another big alarm bell was when it announced that it would no longer launch phones running with its own software in China. Instead, they would get Oppo’s ColorOS software. 

This same alarm rung a little more when OnePlus launched its latest Android 12 beta software. As pointed out by Max Weinbach on Twitter, it appears that the OnePlus Android 12 beta is ColorOS – Oppo’s software. 

Of course, in 2020 we also got the shock news that Carl Pei – who many saw as the driving force behind its ethos – left the company. The Steve Jobsian figure of OnePlus was gone, and he wasn’t the only one. Many of the core team from the early OnePlus years who embodied the company’s core values were no longer there.

Always been a bit of Oppo

While Oppo and OnePlus have only recently started being a bit more open about their collaboration and joint-running of set departments, there’s always been a bit of Oppo in OnePlus. Pete Lau and Carl Pei both originally worked for Oppo before they started OnePlus.  

You’d regularly find OnePlus phones that look very similar and host features much like Oppo-branded models. Warp Charge – the flash charging technology – was a rebadged version of Oppo’s VOOC charging, as an example. You’d find that badged as ‘SuperDART’ on Realme handsets. They are after all part of the same family of tech brands under the BKK umbrella. 

With this official announcement, and the fact that the two also share R&D efforts, there’s likely going to more of a line-blurring between them. 

A silver lining? 

The cold-hard reality of the situation is that while they operated completely independently, OnePlus never had the deep pockets of Oppo. Its sister company is one of the biggest smartphone makers in the world, with huge budgets, selling millions upon millions of phones, while OnePlus was operating on a much smaller scale. 

That means a smaller team for developing, testing and deploying software changes. It goes without saying that when you have more phones on the market, it becomes more of a logistical challenge to keep those up to date as well as developing new ideas. 

If there’s a silver lining to all of this it’s that – in some ways – Oppo has been out-OnePlussing OnePlus with ColorOS. It has a far more customisation options, which is one of the hallmarks of OnePlus software, while featuring nearly all the other benefits of Oxygen OS. 

It wouldn’t actually be the worst thing in the world if OnePlus phones did run ColorOS. But it would further solidify the fact that OnePlus phones are now OnePlus phones only in name. 

The brand remains, but what made a OnePlus phone a OnePlus no longer exists. The experiment is over. 


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