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OnePlus backtracks, commits to 'clean' OxygenOS 13 that's close to stock Android

OxygenOS 13
OxygenOS 13 (Image credit: OnePlus)

For the last six months, OnePlus faced a torrent of backlash from its userbase for the changes it made to OxygenOS. The Chinese manufacturer merged its software codebase with OPPO's ColorOS in a bid to deliver faster updates, and in doing so, it got rid of its primary differentiator: clean software that's well-optimized for its hardware.

We got a first look at this integration on the Nord 2 with OxygenOS 11.3 , but it wasn't until OxygenOS 12 that we got a clearer understanding of what OnePlus had in store. OxygenOS 12 ended up being a rebranded version of ColorOS 12, but OnePlus wasn't able to refine the software for its devices, and as a result, OxygenOS 12 had dozens of bugs. Even though the stable OxygenOS 12 build launched at the end of last year — after several months of beta testing — it had device-breaking bugs that are still being fixed.

In short, OnePlus went from having the best Android skin to the worst. Thankfully, the manufacturer realized its mistake and is making amends in 2022. In a media roundtable, OnePlus co-founder and CEO Pete Lau revealed that OnePlus will re-introduce a "light and clean" version of OxygenOS that will be "familiar" to OnePlus users.

OxygenOS 13 will be built on the ColorOS codebase, but it will have differentiated features and a UI that is similar to older versions of the skin. This is what Lau had to say:

"Back in September, we announced the codebase for both OxygenOS and ColorOS would merge with the goal of creating one unified and upgraded operating system for both brands globally."

"While OxygenOS and ColorOS will continue to be developed on the same codebase – to allow for faster updates and better build quality – OxygenOS and ColorOS will remain independent properties. This new course was taken in accordance with feedback from our community – we understand users of OxygenOS and ColorOS want each operating system to remain separate from each other with their own distinct properties."

"Our software philosophy for OxygenOS has always been to offer users a light and clean experience that is close to stock Android and oriented towards usage globally. With OxygenOS 13, we want to deliver an experience that long-time OnePlus users will be familiar with while ensuring it upholds hallmarks of OxygenOS, like a fast and smooth experience, burdenless design, and ease of use. OxygenOS 13 will retain its unique visual design and a range of exclusive customization features."

It's understandable why OnePlus is backtracking on its unified OS plans. The manufacturer has a very vocal fanbase, and they've let their displeasure known across OnePlus's social media accounts, on its forums, and over on Reddit.

OnePlus now needs to convince its users that it can once again deliver on its promises.

OnePlus has moved away from its enthusiast userbase in recent years, catering to a mainstream audience with the Nord series. That said, the minority of power users that use the brand's devices are often the most vocal, and it's evident that the backlash has made its way back to the decision-makers at OnePlus.

OnePlus admitted to screwing up with OxygenOS 12, and that in itself is a big deal. I've covered the brand for over seven years, and this is the first time it has publicly admitted to making a mistake and correcting it. With its image significantly tarnished in the eyes of its power users, the Chinese manufacturer is redeem itself with OxygenOS 13.

Given the naming, it is likely we'll see OxygenOS 13 later in the year with Android 13 in tow. We don't have much to go in regarding the UI or the feature-set, but if I had to venture a guess, OxygenOS 13 will end up looking a lot like OxygenOS 11.3 but with a ColorOS foundation that includes all the Android 13 features.

OnePlus also said that it is working with Google to tailor features for OxygenOS 13, and it suggests we could get Material You integration. The brand is also likely working on a foldable that could be based on OxygenOS 13. We'll know more in the coming months, but the fact that OnePlus is aiming to fix its mistakes with OxygenOS should be welcome news to enthusiast users.

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor covering Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone manufacturers, and writes about the semiconductor industry, storage servers, and audio products. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.