Credit: Brian Heater
The days of a cautious OnePlus release cycle seem to be behind us. In January, the Oppo-owned wireless brand unveiled its new flagship phone, the OnePlus 11. Earlier this month, the 11R launched, which focuses on the growing Indian smartphone market. These days the company also offers last year’s 10T and 10 Pro, three budget Nord devices, five earbuds and a tablet. A new mechanical keyboard is on the way, along with some rumors of foldable keyboards.
For a change, the company unveiled a product at MWC this week that will never see the light of day — or at least not in its current form. As the name suggests, the OnePlus 11 Concept is effectively a remix of the company’s current flagship. However, the key differentiators point to a company hoping to get more serious about mobile gaming. The gaming phone market has been a mixed bag, to say the least, and there’s no clear indication that it’ll ever release such a device.
A more likely approach involves generational advancements that make more serious gaming on the small screen more plausible. “We will make great efforts in researching and developing the technology,” OnePlus President and COO Kinder Liu told TechCrunch through a translator. “But as for the commercial availability of these technologies, we will continue to analyze the market and the maturity of the technology.”
Liu explains that measuring consumer interest is one of the “several reasons” OnePlus went down the automaker path with the idea of a liquid-cooled handset. “We also want to encourage continuous innovation in our company,” he adds.
OnePlus calls the new technology “Active CryoFlux”. A 0.2 cm square piezoelectric ceramic micro-pump moves the coolant up and down a tube near the rear of the device and around the massive camera assembly. The back of the device is covered with a transparent material that stages the process as a kind of light show. It’s a cool effect, invariably compared to Phone(1) released by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s Nothing last year.
Given the recent stagnation in broader smartphone innovation, it’s probably inevitable that manufacturers will tweak product design in new ways. Smartphone sales have also slowed quite a bit across the board, leading manufacturers to look for new ways to boost sales.
“Many young people like to play games,” says Liu. “Gaming plays an important part in their digital life and in the future we will continuously improve their gaming experience. Currently, we are definitely sharing with our users about game development. We’re talking about how we can improve the gaming experience and we think we’ll have more time to talk to them in the future.”
These conversations are in part an indication of the company’s long-standing commitment to its user base. Community has been a big factor in OnePlus’ growth since its inception, but many consumers have feared that the launch of Chinese wireless giant Oppo has caused OnePlus to stray from that original focus. A prime example is the original plans to merge OnePlus’ OxygenOS with Oppo’s Color OS. The company abandoned the move a year ago after user backlash.
“I think one thing can be improved,” says Liu, “and that is that we need to have better communication with the outside world.”
Is gaming the next frontier for device makers long after the initial wave of 5G adoption has subsided? Companies like ASUS, Nubia and Xiaomi are betting on this with the release of devices that put this experience front and center. Giants like Samsung and Apple, on the other hand, seem content to simply make gaming more accessible on their flagship devices. OnePlus seems to be going the latter route, but the phone maker has certainly surprised me before.