Very often, people bash OPPO for selling “overpriced” products, comparing OPPO devices with similarly priced products from brands like Xiaomi and Honor. But is that really the truth, or is there more to it? Who are OPPO’s products for?
These are some of the questions that I hope to address in today’s article. Studying the smartphone industry since 2012, no brand intrigues me more than OPPO. By the end of this article, you will never see OPPO the same way again.
The Facts – The Turning Point
In order to understand how OPPO got to where it is today, we will have to take a look at one very important year: 2014, the year OPPO released their two last high-end devices, the Find 7 and N3.
In the same year, OPPO released the R5, the first phone in OPPO’s very successful R series to receive widespread attention globally. It was well known for two things: being the thinnest smartphone (not for long) and not having a headphone jack.
Also, it had one of the most bad ass commercials.
2014 was also the year OPPO’s subsidiary (stop denying!), OnePlus, released its first smartphone, the OnePlus One. The OnePlus One was in some ways similar to OPPO’s Find 7 in design and specs, but it was a lot more affordable.
After silently abandoning its Find and N series, OPPO placed its attention on the premium mid-range R series. Despite being a relatively unknown brand in 2014, OPPO made it into the global top 5 list in 2016 and has stayed up there since.
Along the way, OPPO also introduced the A and F series. Today, the A series covers all of OPPO’s affordable budget phones. Meanwhile, the F series replaces the R series in selected markets, offering lesser specs at a slightly lower price.
The Analysis – More Than Just Coincidence
I would like to split this analysis into two parts: Why OPPO abandoned its high-end Find and N series for the premium mid-range R series and why OnePlus was formed. Through this, we will also uncover who OPPO’s R series is targeted at.
The Problem with High-End Devices
We know little about the fate of OPPO’s high-end Find and N series, but after so many years, many believe that OPPO will not be releasing an update for any of them. Here is a highly possible reason they were discontinued:
To stand a chance in succeeding in the high end smartphone market, one has to come out with the most impressive device, which requires huge spending on innovation. Those that did well were heftily rewarded, but most end up losing money from it.
Yes, it is just like gambling.
Considering how small OPPO was back then, and that Chinese products were often viewed as “cheap” and “low quality” back in 2014 even in China, chances of OPPO beating Samsung and other big players in the high-end market were slim.
One Price, Two Recipes
All successful smartphones in the ¥2000-¥4000 price range fall under two categories: “Flagship killers” that are equipped with specs of >S$1000 phones or premium mid-rangers that will impress you with its quality and craftsmanship.
Flagship killers appeals the most to people who cares about getting the most out of their money, at least on paper. Meanwhile, premium mid-rangers attracts people who want to flaunt their status, as well as those that are less tech savvy.
With the rapidly growing middle-class in China, more people are able to afford costlier devices. To dominate the rising ¥2000-¥4000 smartphone market, you will need to sell both type of products. And that was exactly what OPPO did.
OPPO and the R Series
OPPO was already competing in the premium mid-range segment with its R series, so they got the first part solved. Sort of. They aren’t the only ones making premium mid-range devices though. OPPO needed to stand out from the competition.
Mentioned earlier, premium mid-rangers are all about the quality and craftsmanship. Hence, they are often sold in offline stores, where people can feel the devices before purchasing. The key to selling well is creating a good first impression.
As a result, factors that shape first impressions, like design and build quality, were prioritized over others, including performance. This is why R series phones uses Snapdragon 6xx processors (or its MTK equivalent) instead of Snapdragon 8xx.
You may have noticed that designs of recent OPPO devices are a little inspired by iPhones – copycat? But think about it this way: if OPPO can take Apple’s design and make it look even better, doesn’t it prove that they can design better than Apple?
Apple got beaten at its own game!
Alright, OPPO is capable of making devices that look and feel really good, even better than some >S$1000 devices. But was it enough to convince people that their product is better than something from a reputable brand like Samsung?
Maybe? But there was too much at stake to take the risk.
Thus, OPPO spent a lot on advertisements, sponsorship and brand ambassador. Their presence could be felt everywhere in China, with an insane number of retail shops displaying their logo and ads at subways, airports and on television.
Just from the image on the left, you can spot 3 OPPO stores.
That changed people’s perception of it from a stereotypical Chinese brand to one that is considered luxurious and highly sought after. This further establishes the R series as premium devices and helped OPPO break into markets outside of China.
The Reason for OnePlus
As you may have guessed, OPPO created OnePlus to compete in the flagship killer segment. But why did they not sell them under the OPPO branding? The answer is quite clear – flagship killer and premium mid-ranger cannot coexist under one roof.
If OnePlus’s devices were released under the OPPO branding and retain their price, it would be competing with a similarly priced R series device. OPPO would have less budget for advertising and out goes OPPO’s “premium” reputation.
On the other hand, if these flagship killers were priced higher, they would lose their appeal and competitors like Xiaomi and Honor will have an edge. Either way, one of them will suffer, so it makes sense to sell them under different brands.
Another reason for OnePlus’s existence is to break into western markets. Unlike OPPO, many people do not view OnePlus as a Chinese brand, which helps them to avoid getting stereotypes like being low quality or infected with spyware.
Perhaps this is why OPPO refused to acknowledge OnePlus as its subsidiary. As a company from China, being able to sell well in western markets, especially in the US, is a real miracle.
Unlike OPPO, OnePlus phones are mainly sold online to reduce cost. OnePlus had two experience stores, one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai, but unfortunately they both closed in 2016.
The Prediction – What’s Next for OPPO?
With China’s smartphone growth coming to a halt last year, the latest sales figures show that OPPO’s growth also took a hit. Is OPPO’s days of glory over? What is OPPO doing about it? What else can they do? Lets take a look.
India Exclusive Realme
Just recently, OPPO partnered with Amazon India to launch the new Realme brand in India. Their first phone, the Realme 1, has not been announced, but many are saying that it is a re-branded OPPO A3. But the re-branding seems a little redundant.
Unless… What if Realme is the OnePlus equivalent of budget OPPO phones? What if the Realme 1 is an OPPO A3 with lesser specs but with a much more affordable price?
Return to High-End Smartphones?
Next up, will OPPO ever release a high-end smartphones again? Patents and leaks point to a possible fordable smartphone from OPPO and if OPPO were to release something so cool and bizarre, chances are that it will come with high end specs.
So yes, we might be seeing a flagship-grade device from OPPO in the near future. After all, the OPPO today is no longer the OPPO we knew back in 2014. They are now one of the top 5 smartphone manufacturers; they are now recognized worldwide.
Using AI for Greater Convenience
Smartphone manufacturers are integrating artificial intelligence into certain aspects of their phones and OPPO is no exception. Last year’s R11s used AI to make beautify more natural and the new R15 uses it to identify scenes for better photos.
While “Camera Phone” may be OPPO’s tagline, their use of AI do not have to stop there. OPPO’s smartphones are well known for being reliable and easy to use, so why not use AI to further improve the way users interact with their phones?
I have a couple of ideas for that, but I am sure OPPO can come out with better ones so I will not share them here. (@OPPO but if you are interested in what I have in mind, feel free to contact me on Facebook and we will discuss there)
Conclusion – Mind Blown Yet?
What I have discussed above is only touching the surface of what OPPO has done over the past 4-5 years that brought them to where they are today, but I hope it is enough to change the way you think of OPPO and its relationship with OnePlus.
You may have noticed that I avoided mentioning about Vivo in this article. While many believe that OPPO belongs to BBK, Vivo’s parent company, I do not find the evidence convincing enough yet. But if true, things can get a lot more complicated.