Attending a Q&A session hosted by several members of Oppo’s senior product and strategy teams on the first day of this year’s Mobile World Congress, we were treated to an illuminating insight into the company’s current approach to the foldable device market and why it feels like the time has come. it’s good to let such technology trickle down to mid-range space.
While we’ve had the ability to spend cash on foldable devices for about three years now, the materials, engineering, and hardware that go into such devices still make them much more expensive than similar alternatives that don’t have to bend at the waist.
A week before MWC 2023, Oppo launched its first foldable flip, the Oppo Find N2 Flip. Despite the foldable smartphone being a great value (£849 in the UK), it is still valued by many users who would otherwise welcome the convenience of a compact foldable smartphone in their pocket.
When asked if there is room for mid-range foldable or foldable phones, Billy Zhang, Oppo’s president of overseas sales and service, had a lot to say.
Speaking through an interpreter, Zhang explained, “Now that we are talking about a product like [a mid-range foldable]we have to consider if it can really give a good experience because to try to hit the mid-price range if we sacrifice things like SoC [the chipset] or imaging, that wouldn’t be good. Because if we cut corners with the SoC, we won’t be able to maximize the imaging processing power as well.”
Zhang continued, “As the supply of folded products increases, there will certainly be more room for cost reduction – from a supply chain perspective, but this process will take time.”
You might think that’s all she wrote; Zhang confirmed that taking the easy way out to bring such a device to market would be detrimental to the user, and as long as supplies don’t increase, costs are unlikely to come down.
It was obvious that Zhang wasn’t done yet; was eager to expand the potential and profitability of foldable mid-range devices.
“I would just like to share more considerations on how to reduce the cost of flip phones,” he continued. “Some initial ideas might include removing the cover screen, cutting corners with the SoC, cutting corners with the camera.
“But when we talk about a flip phone, if we remove the cover screen, it’s definitely not a good experience because the cover screen is important to make it more convenient to check quick notifications and things like that. Or if you’re taking shortcuts in the SoC, that will also have an impact.”
“In about six months or more, these kinds of flip phones may be on the market, but they may cut corners – like using plastic in the bezels or removing the screen protector – but it’s definitely not a good experience for us; it’s not something we do [Oppo] i want to do. If your competitors want to do it, just let them do it. User experience is our priority.”
Inexpensive folding, but at what cost?
Based on Zhang’s statements, it’s unlikely we’ll see a foldable phone with a much lower price tag anytime soon.
Oppo wants to appear uncompromising in its approach to product development, and its message is that user experience is paramount; aspect of any device that will definitely suffer if you start hacking basic interaction methods (like the cover display) or functions.
Zhang, however, left the door open for other manufacturers to take on the tough challenge of what needs to be cut to bring the familiar folding experience to the mid-range market. So the question is who is first?
Check out our roundup of the best foldable devices and learn more about the Oppo Find N2 series along the way.