OnePlus explains how and why it created its Zen Mode feature

Zen Mode on a OnePlus 7 Pro
Zen Mode on a OnePlus 7 Pro (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • OnePlus shared a post on its forums detailing how and why it created Zen Mode.
  • The idea behind Zen Mode is to help technology serve you.
  • A lot of thought went into Zen Mode's duration, app design, and gamification.

OnePlus's OxygenOS is one of the best Android interfaces around, and when the OnePlus 7 Pro was unveiled earlier this year, Zen Mode was announced as one of the latest additions to the software. Like we've seen from companies such as Google and Apple, Zen Mode is another "digital wellbeing" feature designed to help you use your phone less.

On July 31, OnePlus shared a post on its forums titled "Let's talk Zen Mode - A challenge in mindfulness" to explain in detail how Zen Mode came about and why it looks and works the way it does in its final form.

OnePlus starts off by saying how it takes time to think about what's affecting its users before adding a new feature, and noting that, "Among a sea of topics, we saw a lot of feedback and discussion across many channels about one recurring topic: technology demands too much of your attention."

When OnePlus's R&D team was working on Zen Mode, the company conducted research to understand people's relationships with their phones.

Our research showed that sometimes people don't feel like they can switch off from their digital life. Social media apps especially, demand too much attention with constant notifications and updates. Messaging apps can be similarly distracting.We realized that the notifications drawing you in aren't the only problem. Many apps are designed to reward you for interacting with them, whether it be through something as simple as an animation welcoming you back or a virtual reward or counter – especially in games, which rewards you for coming back.

That idea created the basis for Zen Mode, and from there, OnePlus's next step was figuring out how it wanted to implement the feature. A layer of sorts that sat on top of the rest of the UI was considered, but OnePlus ultimately canned that idea.

So, for this stage, we ruled out having a persistent layer – imagine if you were completely happy with the way you used your device, and constantly had a feature nagging you – that would be the opposite of what we wanted to achieve.

That's why OnePlus ended up creating the Zen Mode app. With this, OnePlus says users could engage with Zen Mode if they wanted to, or ignore it entirely if it's not something they're interested in.

In regards to Zen Mode's 20-minute time limit, a lot of consideration went into this as well. Per OnePlus:

We can all agree that setting Zen Mode to be 60 minutes would prevent all but the most hardcore from even trying it, and we know that a lot can happen in one hour, so you may need your device. Even 45 minutes is a long time – while that could be perfect for students in a class, it may not be ideal for others.So rather than looking for a long period of time, why not a shorter period, which can then be repeated if needed? 5 minutes is too short, your mind will not have moved on, and if you wanted to extend it you'd have to constantly start the countdown again – not very burdenless or thoughtful. Even 10 minutes feels very short. 15 minutes and 20 minutes felt like they could be right, and after experimentation within our team we decided on 20 minutes.

Lastly, in an effort to help design Zen Mode to be open and welcoming, OnePlus had to come up with a way to encourage people to use it.

The insight driving this may feel counter-intuitive. We want people to use the app so they don't use their phone. Essentially, we're creating gamified elements, but with healthier rules and rewards than other apps and games.There's also some light psychology going on – if it's simply an option, many people will pass it by. But if it's a challenge... it's more compelling. Keep in mind that this is aimed at encouraging as many people as possible to be more aware over their smartphone usage – we don't want to create an unwelcome or abrasive attitude towards them. There are some people who need real help with setting limits, and there are some people who just want a quick break – we have to try and support everyone.

If you have a OnePlus phone with Zen Mode, have you ever used it? Why or why not?

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.