The Oppo-ification of OnePlus is getting worse
OnePlus has changed a lot in the past two months, perhaps more than at any other point in its six-year history. In October, the company released three new phones and said goodbye to co-founder Carl Pei. The previous month saw the first Nord phone and a dramatic and controversial redesign of Oxygen OS.
Before 2020, OnePlus had a unique focus on the enthusiast market and it seemed like that approach was paying off. The Shenzhen brand saw the best growth ever in the US market last year thanks to its first true premium flagship – the OnePlus 7 Pro.
Recognition: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority. Opinion from – Igor Bonifacic
So why the sudden change in strategy towards the end of 2020? You don’t have to look far for an answer. In 2019, not a single OnePlus handset was added to the list of top-selling phones that year. And when it comes to total shipments in 2019, OnePlus was a non-unit.
Recognition: Ryan-Thomas Shaw / Android Authority
What you see on these lists is the presence of Oppo. The two companies have never been very transparent about their relationship, but the consensus is that they are both subsidiaries of BBK Electronics, a Chinese multinational that also has Vivo and Realme under its wing. BBK isn’t a household name outside of China, but the company is a powerhouse nonetheless. When you combine the output of Oppo, Vivo and Realme, BBK ships at least as many phones as Huawei, which Samsung briefly named the world’s leading phone maker last summer.
A story from OnePlus
You have to imagine that BBK is not satisfied with just being the second-largest phone manufacturer in the world. From this perspective, OnePlus is something of an underutilized asset. It has gained a foothold in the US and India and none of the stigma that has accompanied other Chinese players in these markets. In other words, it’s the perfect vehicle to put BBK in the first place. And so we saw OnePlus begin to change to live up to those ambitions. In doing so, OnePlus is more similar to Oppo, Vivo, and Realme and loses a lot of what made it unique in the first place.
In 2020, OnePlus released as many budget devices as it did high-end phones. That is significant.
Nowhere is this change more apparent than in the company’s latest release. Between North, North N10, and North N100, OnePlus has released as many budget devices as it has high-end phones this year. That’s something for a company that hasn’t bothered with the budget since the OnePlus X in 2015. This is just a sign of OnePlus’s growing opposition. You expect Oppo to bring out tons of mid-to low-end devices every year, perhaps with the occasional flagship like this year’s excellent Find X2 Pro. Meanwhile, the OnePlus brand’s goal was apparently not to move units, but rather to gain prestige and grow its enthusiastic fan base. That seems to be changing.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this new strategy. On paper, at least, all three Nords look like decent phones. However, they are symbolic of OnePlus’ changing priorities.
The N100 in particular says a lot about where OnePlus is currently as a company. Nothing on the phone matches the priorities of the past. In many ways, it’s a step back from OnePlus a year ago. You don’t have to rate the N100 to know it’s not a fast phone, but there’s more to it than that. With the N100, OnePlus is also returning to one of its worst tendencies. It gets the majority of its components and design elements from an existing Oppo device. This is something OnePlus had to do with its flagships, but it eventually stopped when its high-end phones became more expensive.
In this case, however, the N100 is a nearly identical copy of the Oppo A53. Both handsets have Snapdragon 460 chipsets, 5,000 mAh batteries and 90 Hz displays. The way OnePlus treated the N100’s 90Hz display should tell you everything you need to know about how OnePlus finds the cheapest phone to date. Before we got our hands on the N100, the promotional materials for the phone indicated that it did not have a high refresh rate screen. Then we found out that there is one. The company inconsistent messaging is telling: OnePlus almost certainly knows that the N100 is not meeting its usual performance benchmark, especially in 90Hz mode.
OnePlus Nord N10 review
The N100 may be the worst new OnePlus but by no means the only sign of a change of company. In the past, you could count on OnePlus to provide a simple and easy-to-understand breakdown. Not that much anymore. Take the original Nord. Either way, it’s one of the better phones OnePlus released recently, but it’s not available in North America. Instead, we get a very similar N10 and the not-so-convincing N100. Then there is the OnePlus 8T. It’s closer to the original North than a flagship in many ways. In the US, you couldn’t tell by the $ 749 price tag.
Recognition: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
With the new phones at least, you can’t buy them if you feel like they’re not for you. But what if you already have an OnePlus device? Well, you are beginning to see changes there too.
For much of its recent history, the company has developed much of its “no-load” approach to software. “In terms of design, a focus on beauty in simplicity, with no unnecessary features,” said Pete Lau, CEO of OnePlus, when he detailed the ethos in a 2018 blog post. Two years later, the company ditched that approach in favor of an approach that aligns it with most other Android OEMs.
Prior to the Oxygen OS 11 release in September, the company’s software was compelling due to the near-stock Android experience. That is not to say that the software was free of additions. With features like Zen mode, OnePlus has made numerous improvements to give Oxygen OS its own identity. For a while, it felt like the company was expanding the operating system in a way that felt thoughtful and cautious.
Behind the scenes with the controversial Oxygen OS 11 update
Not so with Oxygen OS 11. Yes, it added features that people have been asking for for years, but at the expense of what made Oxygen OS unique. It now looks like any other Android skin, with features and design quirks apparently borrowed from Samsung’s One UI and, tellingly, from Oppo’s Color OS 11 redesign.
You can also expect OnePlus to back up its devices with one of the best update policies in the industry. If you bought the OnePlus 3 or 3T, your phone received four platform updates from the company. With the N10 and N100, you can expect a big upgrade and then the time has come. Granted, these two phones aren’t flagships, but they deserve more than the minimum of support. Older flagships don’t do much better either. It took OnePlus almost six months to patch the defective Oxygen OS 10 version of the OP5 / 5T.
OnePlus also took pride once in not imposing bloatware on its users, and that too seems out of the window. Over the summer, new OnePlus phones were shipped with pre-installed Facebook services. It wasn’t until the OnePlus community reached out to Reddit and other social media platforms to complain that OnePlus withdrew – but only partially. There was also the bizarre situation where OnePlus transferred the Amazon shopping app to devices via OTA.
In some ways, it is difficult to blame OnePlus for its many strategic changes in 2020. At least as an outsider, the company finds success. The Nord is reputedly the best-selling mid-range phone in India and has carved out a niche for itself in the broader Indian market. Additionally, no company is immune to change, especially one that recently one of its co-founders left to try something new.
But you have to ask yourself how sustainable is this approach? OnePlus built a passionate following by offering something different from the Samsung and Oppos of the world. It was the company’s competitive advantage.
Oppo’s DNA could continue to move into OnePlus’ in the coming months and years.
If Pete Lau takes on a leadership role at OPLUS – a new and supposedly independent entity of BBK that will oversee both OnePlus and Oppo and focus on “brand synergies” – you can likely expect the two companies to continue in addition to his continued leadership of OnePlus to bleed into each other. We’ll have to wait and see if Opo’s influence on OnePlus changes the company for the better. Even so, mind-blowing devices like the OnePlus 8T and Nord N100 aren’t a good sign that the company has a solid idea of how its identity should continue to evolve.