Why Oppo Is All-In On Foldable Phones
It’s the season of launch events ahead of Mobile World Congress, which means it’s the season to find out what strategy smartphone manufacturers will adopt. Why is there a drive towards foldable phones, and why is Oppo putting foldable at the heart of its global strategy? Ahead of MWC, I sat down with Oppo’s President of Overseas Sales and Service Billy Zhang to find out why.
The most straightforward answer is growth. While the overall smartphone market in 2022 saw a decrease in sales, the foldable markets showed measurable growth both around the world and in Oppo’s home market of China. With sales up and a strong positive reaction from the market, the decision to expand the foldable portfolio to the global market is easy.
Oppo is planning to make foldable in general, and the Find N2 Flip in particular, its focus. Zhang explains why their global market for phones costing over a thousand dollars will be focused on foldable phones.
“We are confident about the evolution of this product, and the technologies related to foldable phones. That is why, in the future, we will be setting foldable phones as our first priority in product strategy, product investment, sales, and marketing.”
Oppo has worked through six prototype devices as part of a five-year investment program to get to this point. Much of that has been behind closed doors, yet over 1600 patents in this area have been published so some progress has been visible. It’s worth noting this is a similar timescale to Samsung, although, with the first Galaxy Fold launched in March 2019, Samsung has done a lot of its evolution in public.
Samsung started its portfolio with the tablet-like Galaxy Fold. Oppo is taking a different approach to its global release, going with a Z Flip styled small phone that opens up to a very standard-looking candy bar smartphone screen.
Why is that important to Zhang and Oppo? “If we take a look at the user experience of a flip phone, it offers a familiar experience to the traditional bar-type phones, while providing the great compactness of a pocket-sized and attractive design. That means there is no learning cost for users to enjoy a brand new experience.”
Foldable phones have opened up new form factors and new areas where manufacturers can innovate and show off their technical prowess. As can be seen, they have also boosted sales compared to the global smartphone trends. Zhang doesn’t feel this is innovation for innovation’s sake:
“The thoughts about phones right now is that foldables are a little bit heavier and a little bit thicker than the far-type phone. We believe that with our advanced technologies, there is an opportunity to continue to reduce the weight and the thickness so they are close to the level of a bar-type phone.”
There’s also the elephant in the room, and that’s Apple. The iPhone Pro sits in the premium space and commands significant attention and sales. How does a manufacturer like Oppo deal with that dominant force?
“That’s why all manufacturers should try to innovate. We need to compete against Apple, and Apple holds the majority of the market share in the premium segment. It’s necessary for Android manufacturers to find some differentiation.”
This is, I suggest, where Oppo’s strategy of premium foldable devices comes in. Zhang agrees, “Foldables are becoming more popular and mainstream these days Eventually, it’s still about the product itself, and the benefits they can bring.”
Now read my review of oppo’s latest version of its ColorOS software…