The OnePlus Fold is set to arrive on October 19th, and this is our first official look at the folding-style phone. In an official teaser image provided to The Verge, it looks to be a relatively thin design with at least one fan-favorite feature: a three-stage alert slider.
OnePlus president and COO Kinder Liu isn’t being shy about the phone’s potential. In a conversation conducted via translator with The Verge late last month, he told us it would “bring the foldable experience to new heights.” That’s a big claim to make about your first entry into a market where Samsung has dominated for years, but according to Liu, this device — which parent company Oppo will release under another name — has been a long time coming. His statements throughout this article have been edited for clarity.
“To be honest, we’ve been thinking about launching a foldable for a while. We spent the last two years researching and developing prototypes, and we wanted to launch it earlier. However, in early stages, we met technical challenges.” He tells us that the company didn’t want to rush to market and delayed releasing ituntil the product was fully ready. No doubt, there’s also been a lot to learn over the past few years from the development of Oppo’s Find series of fold-style phones, which haven’t been released outside of China.
But the $1,800 question is, does the world actually want folding phones? The skeptical viewpoint — shared by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei — is that the push for foldables originates with manufacturers, not customer needs. Liu tells us that his team held a similar belief in the recent past: “Two years ago, when we started researching this product category, we had a similar idea. We’ve done a lot of research and analysis because we wanted to make sure this was a real demand from the users.”
He says that people want to do big-screen things with their phones and believes the current foldable options aren’t totally satisfying users’ needs. The “heavy” and “thick” devices present too much friction for people using them. “We know that if we want to bring a foldable to market, we have to make it more convenient for users and remove that friction,” he says and calls the OnePlus Open’s format light and slim.
There’s no ignoring the heavyweight, Samsung, in this market segment, though Liu thinks there’s still room at the table and cites market forecasts for growth in the foldable space. There’s good reason to be optimistic — Oppo owned more than a quarter of foldable sales at home in China in the first quarter of 2023 with devices like the Find N2 Flip, slightly edging out Samsung. And foldables are a shining beacon of growth in an otherwise shrinking smartphone market.
Liu didn’t dwell on the market in our conversation, though: “From the very beginning… we didn’t care too much about the competition. Instead, we care much more about the users and their needs. We want to deliver an all-around flagship foldable that will not make any compromises.” But compromise is always the name of the game when you’re designing a product like the Open: what do you include, and at what cost? What do you leave out? At the very least, we know we won’t be waiting much longer to see OnePlus’ fully realized vision for a folding phone.