This past year has been an important one for Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus. With seven years of experience under its belt, the company used 2020 to cement its ambitions. It has now officially moved away from its niche beginnings and will play on the main stage with the other big names.
Of course, that transition inevitably required some growing pains. This year, the company released more phones than it ever has previously, and that forced it to drop down its quality control a bit. It revamped Oxygen OS in a number of ambitious ways, which caused some controversies. It also lost Carl Pei — a company co-founder — who represented the young, risk-taking half of brand leadership.
Unfortunately, these big shifts pushed some early fans to the sidelines. This year, more than any other, we saw OnePlus shed its former skin to blossom into something new. Whether you perceive that as a good or bad thing likely depends on the year in which you became a OnePlus fan.
In 2021, OnePlus won’t be going through these growing pains anymore. Instead, it will be laying the groundwork for the company it will be for the next decade. As it forges its new path, we’ve listed out below the five things we hope to see from the company next year.
1. Trend-setting, not trend-following
In the beginning, OnePlus’ hardware didn’t create any trends. The OnePlus One didn’t feature anything we hadn’t already seen from other phones. However, the One basically kickstarted the whole idea of a flagship killer — in fact, the company coined that very term. It was revolutionary just by existing.
Eventually, OnePlus started pushing new features to its phones that you couldn’t get from many other devices, especially here in the US. The OnePlus 5 had a dual-lens rear camera before any Samsung Galaxy phone did. Additionally, the OnePlus 6T was the first device to hit the US with an in-display fingerprint sensor. The OnePlus 7 Pro had the first pop-up selfie camera in the US, too.
However, 2020 saw OnePlus playing catch-up more than anything else. The star features of the OnePlus 8 Pro were wireless charging and an IP rating — neither of which were at all revolutionary. The ultra-fast 65W wired charging of the OnePlus 8T is certainly cool, but multiple phones already offered 45W speeds, which is plenty fast. Even the most notable upgrade of Oxygen OS 11 is an always-on display, which many other devices have offered for years.
In 2021, we hope OnePlus goes back to aggressively pushing the limits of what its products can do. The company didn’t get to where it is today by trying to be like Samsung, Apple, or Huawei. It’s where it is right now because it is OnePlus, and it shouldn’t reject that for a seat at the table with the bigger players.
2. An awesome OnePlus watch
OnePlus has confirmed that it will launch a smartwatch in 2021. Let’s hope CEO Pete Lau’s tease that it will launch early in the year comes true. If we don’t see a smartwatch before the Fall, it could be bad news for OnePlus.
There are multiple reasons why a smartwatch launch is so important for this company. The first is just market analysis: smartphone sales are way down while wearable sales are way up. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that OnePlus needs to get a foothold in the market sooner rather than later. It can’t depend only on phones and audio products for growth.
OnePlus also has an opportunity to one-up the competition. Samsung’s wearable portfolio is great, but its designs aren’t incredible. Then there’s of course Apple. The Cupertino giant leads the market with its incredible Apple Watch range, but they’re all incompatible with Android phones. OnePlus is in a terrific position to disrupt the smartwatch market just as it did in the phone market with the OnePlus One.
There’s also the elephant in the room: Google’s lack of any kind of smartwatch hardware. If OnePlus can get into this market soon and offer something that is well-made, inexpensive, and designed with that OnePlus flair for minimalist beauty, it could quickly carve a sizable chunk of the market for itself. Of course, it is already going to be late to the game no matter what, so that clock is ticking fast.
3. Keep Oxygen OS’s identity
As mentioned earlier, Oxygen OS 11 finally brought an always-on display to the OnePlus ecosystem. It also delivered a bevy of new design elements that fans quickly pointed out borrowed heavily from Samsung’s One UI.
Over the past few years, the Oxygen OS vs One UI argument has elevated to Mac vs PC or Xbox vs PlayStation levels. In fact, I would argue that the fervent devotion to Oxygen OS is a huge reason why consumers stick with OnePlus once they try it out. OnePlus would be smart not to toy with a product with that kind of power. However, 2020 proved that it is totally open to making Oxygen OS more like One UI.
This is undoubtedly a mistake and pairs well with the first bullet on this list (don’t be a trend follower).
Now, don’t get me wrong: Oxygen OS isn’t perfect, and OnePlus should absolutely update it, change it, and experiment with it. The only thing it shouldn’t do is abandon its very identity. It came dangerously close to that with Oxygen OS 11 — which is why fans got into a tizzy. Here’s hoping OnePlus took that backlash seriously and doesn’t continue to tarnish one of its most important products in 2021.
4. Don’t squander the Nord line
The launch of the OnePlus Nord — the first entry in the new Nord line — was sloppy. The slow-drip media blitz was exhausting, and the self-serving “documentary” was laughably terrible. However, the phone itself was actually pretty awesome.
For less than $500, buyers got most of the things they would want from a great 2020 smartphone: 5G access, multiple front and rear cameras, a great display, a huge battery, and more. Even if the phone didn’t land with Oxygen OS, it still would have been an easy device to recommend for most buyers. But it does have Oxygen OS, making it a no-brainer.
Our verdict: OnePlus Nord review
However, the phone was only released in certain countries. It isn’t receiving the same priority as its flagship siblings when it comes to software updates either. And, to make matters worse, the other two phones in the Nord line are so low-grade that they barely even qualify as OnePlus products. The Nord line has a promising lead device, but it needs to overcome a ton of obstacles to survive in the long-term.
We can only hope that, in 2021, OnePlus reassesses its approach to all things Nord. For long-time OnePlus fans, the Nord line is as close to the “old” OnePlus as today’s buyers can get. OnePlus should cherish that and not squander it for some short-term gains.
5. Remove (or go all-in on) the Never Settle slogan
When OnePlus first landed on the scene, its “Never Settle” mantra was incredibly powerful. Along with the aforementioned “Flagship Killer” slogan, Never Settle cemented what the OnePlus brand was in a very economical two words.
Over the years, Never Settle has stopped having a positive connotation. When the OnePlus 2 landed without NFC, that was a big ding to the Never Settle armor. The reduced battery of the OnePlus 3, the notch of the OnePlus 6, the removal of the headphone jack in the OnePlus 6T, and even the lack of a telephoto lens in the OnePlus 8T this year all chipped away further at the slogan’s armor. At this point, Never Settle has lost all its power. In fact, it’s pulled into reverse and is now used pejoratively more often than not.
OnePlus has a big decision to make in 2021: either abandon Never Settle since it isn’t remotely relevant to the brand anymore or go all-in on it once again. It’s not too late for the manufacturer to deliver products that offer almost everything a consumer wants at a price that undercuts the competition. The OnePlus 7T is probably the most current phone that fits the Never Settle ethos, but it doesn’t need to be the last. OnePlus just needs to decide that it wants to deliver.
Or, it could skip all that and just drop the slogan altogether for something more applicable. “Settle Sometimes” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, though.
You tell us: What do you want to see from OnePlus in 2021?
The five bullet points above are what we want to see the most from OnePlus in 2021. But now we want to know what you think! Fill out the poll below with your top choice for what you want to see from the company next year.
Once you’ve made your choice, feel free to head to the comments and sound off on your reasoning. Do you have any other ideas about what you’d like to see (or not see) from the company in 2021? We’d love to hear them!