OnePlus had a big launch events last week. Organized in New York’s beautiful Gotham Hall and attended by media folks around the world, the event was the company’s first in-person gathering since the pandemic and a pretty impressive one at that. The reason for this gathering? The launch of the company’s new OnePlus 10T smartphone and the announcement of the upcoming OxygenOS 13 software.
Image credit: OnePlus forum
OnePlus has certainly come a long way as a company from its humble origins, and you can see that from the grand scale of its events. But as the events themselves get bigger, the products somehow get less impressive and, in some cases, downright disappointing.
The OnePlus 10T is a perfectly fine phone. We did a detailed hands-on and think that most people will be reasonably happy with it. It’s a phone that’s content being just your average, everyday smartphone, designed to appeal to the average consumer without doing anything crazy or out of the box. And that’s what makes it so generic.
Over the past few years we saw all sorts of weird and interesting phones. There are companies now that are bending glass to make their phones foldable (completely intentionally, if I may add). Others have found a way to fit large 1.0-inch type sensors and incredible optical zoom mechanisms inside the standard smartphone form-factor.
Elsewhere, there are brands that offer external coolers to manage heat, complete with thermoelectric elements, trigger buttons, and RGB lighting. Just these past couple of weeks we saw a phone that fits amazing flagship specifications in a compact body and another that has a transparent glass back with flashing LED lights that signals the caller with distinct patterns.
You may think some of these are gimmicks but the point is that it’s interesting and there is an attempt to stand out. Not every idea has to stick but sometimes you just have to appreciate the effort gone into making it work and daring to be different. Unfortunately, we see none of that with the OnePlus 10T, nor with any other of the company’s recent launches.
The OnePlus 7 Pro was probably the last time we had an interesting OnePlus release. The pop-out camera, while not unique, was certainly a very cool feature and one whose loss we have lamented ever since. And while it may not seem all that impressive now, it’s telling how staid things have gotten since for that’s the thing we chose to reminisce about.
The OnePlus of today is perfectly happy releasing iterative devices that don’t push the boat too far. It’s quite satisfied riding along in the middle of the pack, almost as if it’s trying not to stick out too much. Not every company has to be the trailblazer in every segment but you can only ride the middle of the pack so far until people forget you exist.
But as if losing interesting features wasn’t bad enough, the company has also slowly started losing the essentials that people have come to expect from the brand.
The OnePlus alert slider has been a company staple since the OnePlus 2. Recently, we saw it go missing from a handful of regional launches but the OnePlus 10T is the first one to go global with this omission. OnePlus has its reasons and we will pretend that we care but in reality no reason is big enough to warrant losing not just one of the key selling points of your devices but also the thing people have come to love and appreciate about your brand.
Alert slider on the OnePlus 2
But few things hurt as much as what has happened to the company’s OxygenOS software over the years. What was once the central pillar of the OnePlus experience and one of the most coveted features of their smartphones, OxygenOS went through a complete comic book story arc where it went from being a hero to living long enough to see itself become the villain.
As any long-time OnePlus fan would attest, the best part of OxygenOS was that it was not like any of the other Chinese Android skins out there. OnePlus based its design heavily around the appearance of stock Android but with a few basic design tweaks thrown in for good measure. The end result was the best of both worlds, a clean, familiar design but with enough extra features and design flair to elevate the experience without washing over it.
All of that got defenestrated once Oppo got involved. The powers that be decided that OxygenOS and ColorOS code bases would be merged. But it was a good thing, they said, as OxygenOS 12 would have the design and speed of OxygenOS with the reliability of ColorOS.
As we know now, none of that came true. The final product not only looked nothing like what OnePlus users had been used to in the past but was also comically buggy at launch. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great success.
Overtime, OnePlus made an announcement that the next version — OxygenOS 13 — will be closer to stock Android, familiar to long-time OnePlus users, and retain its unique visual design. This got people’s hopes up again. Yes, the company basically lied about how the OxygenOS 12 would turn out to be but surely they wouldn’t do that again, right? Surely, this time they would stick to their word.
Turns out, no, they won’t. When OnePlus revealed what OxygenOS 13 was going to look like at the event, it became obvious that this is once again an even more thinly veiled build of ColorOS. While we haven’t seen a lot of the upcoming ColorOS 13, one look at the leaked images and what OnePlus revealed of OxygenOS 13 and it becomes obvious the two are basically identical, even more so than OxygenOS 12 and ColorOS 12 were, where OnePlus at least pretended to make them seem different.
At this point there is little doubt left that OnePlus phones are rebadged Oppo devices and that the company has no real intention of maintaining its distinct identity. We have known for years that the two companies shared parts. Recently, they even stopped pretending that their two charging techniques were different and just started shipping Oppo chargers with OnePlus phones. Then the alert sliders started disappearing and now the software is identical.
It’s not that companies don’t have sub-brands. Oppo itself has Realme, which is nothing but rebranded Oppo phones for different (and sometimes the same) markets. But OnePlus started life as its own separate thing, completely different from everything else that was being made at the time. Being different is how it established itself in the market and why it enjoyed a fan following for years. Now it’s just a way for Oppo to double or sometimes triple dip into the same market with the same basic hardware and software but different brand names.
We wish things had turned out differently and maybe there’s still time for OnePlus to course correct. But with every new launch and broken promise we lose hope of that ever happening. Perhaps it’s finally time for all the fans to move on. After all, one should never settle.