Over the weekend, OxygenOS hit a big milestone: it completed 1,500 days. As part of the celebration, OnePlus partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to plant trees for every tweet posted using the OxygenOS hashtag. Over the years, OxygenOS has evolved to become the best third-party skin on Android, striking an ideal balance between simplicity and customization.
A large part of OnePlus' success as a manufacturer revolves around OxygenOS. Sure, the manufacturer rose up the ranks over the years because of its ability to undercut the big players, but it wasn't the only one to do so. There's no shortage of phones that offer flagship-tier hardware at the same price point as OnePlus — devices from Xiaomi, OPPO, Huawei/Honor, Vivo and Realme come to mind — but the common theme among all of these phones is the software. As a general rule, the trade-off when buying a phone from a major Chinese manufacturer is a heavily customized user interface.
OnePlus has turned out to be the exception to this rule. From the very beginning, OxygenOS delivered a user interface that was close to stock Android, with a bloat-free design that's focused on customizability. OxygenOS 1.0 rolled out back in April 2015, with the build based on Android 5.0.1 Lollipop. Four years and a few dozen builds later, OxygenOS 9.5 continues to deliver on those same principles. In that time, OnePlus has grown exponentially as a device manufacturer, and is now a leading player in the premium segment in India. The Chinese manufacturer is also the flagship brand for BBK in the U.S., and has a decent market share in the UK as well.
With the OnePlus 7T on the horizon, I sat down with Szymon Kopeć, Global Head of Software Product Growth at OnePlus, to talk about OxygenOS' evolution and what we can look forward to from the next version of the skin. Before we get started, a little refresher on OnePlus' foray into the smartphone segment. The OnePlus One was unveiled on April 23, 2014, with the company announcing its partnership with custom ROM maker Cyanogen several months prior. The phone launched with CyanogenMod 11S out of the box, with custom features and Cyanogen branding at the back.
It didn't take long for OnePlus to ditch Cyanogen, because shortly after the OnePlus One launched in India, it was banned following a lawsuit by local handset maker Micromax. That led to a chain of events resulting in OnePlus deciding to develop its own skin. I started off by asking Kopeć about OnePlus' decision to come up with OxygenOS:
OnePlus is obsessed about speed; there are few manufacturers that put such an emphasis on performance. Kopeć mentioned that the focus on speed is what continues to drive the development of OxygenOS. At one point, OnePlus thought of offering a more feature-laden interface, but it ultimately decided to stick to an aesthetic that was in line with pure Android. That was another key moment in the OxygenOS journey, says Kopeć:
Over the years, OnePlus saw a shift in its userbase. When it started out, its users were almost entirely made up of enthusiasts, but as it started gaining momentum, it picked up a more mainstream audience. The community aspect is what drove the initial development of OnePlus devices as power users engaged directly with the brand, so I asked Kopeć how OnePlus manages to cater to its community now that it is a mainstream player:
It's that shift to a mainstream audience that makes things interesting, because OnePlus now has to balance the needs of a vocal core community with that of a broader populace:
This intricate juggling act of balancing the needs of the community means several features don't ever make it to the final product. Kopeć mentioned that OnePlus was going to create a set of themes for a festival in India, but had to ultimately reject the plan following feedback from closed beta users:
Localization has been an area of focus for OnePlus this year, with the company rolling out exclusive features to users in India. With an added layer of features aimed at a particular market, I asked Kopeć about how this would affect software updates going forward:
Continuing on the subject of localization, I asked Kopeć about designing features tailored to an individual market:
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.