OnePlus's foldable phone gimmick may have been silly, but it wasn't stupid

OnePlus dual-screen?
OnePlus dual-screen? (Image credit: OnePlus)

Before Samsung's highly-anticipated Unpacked event early last week, the mischievous social media team at OnePlus dropped a teaser on Twitter that almost derailed the media machine promoting the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 smartphones. It was a simple, short video that appeared to show a OnePlus foldable phone, with a galaxy of stars on the displays, followed by the numbers 8.11.21 (the date of Samsung's Unpacked event).

Speculation ran rampant in the hours leading up to Samsung's unveiling: Could OnePlus actually be dropping a foldable phone during Samsung's event?! After playing with the idea on social media and various blogs, most of the tech world concluded that OnePlus was trolling everyone. However, they couldn't agree on why, or what product or service the company might be announcing.

On the 11th, that speculation was promptly laid to rest when OnePlus's viral campaign was revealed as simply having a little fun at Samsung's expense. The teaser was for a promotion with T-Mobile whereby customers who added a new line could get the well-reviewed OnePlus 9 device for half of its usual retail price.

Much of the commentary that followed this promotion and the Samsung Unpacked event skewered OnePlus for pulling such a silly stunt. Tech pundits claimed OnePlus was simply piggybacking off of the popularity of Samsung's foldables and that promoting older phones in this way was ridiculous. But the simple fact is that OnePlus garnered a lot of attention in a short amount of time for a great phone that most people in the tech world have already forgotten about.

Maybe I'm alone here, but I thought the mini-marketing campaign was actually kind of brilliant.

OnePlus trolls us

Oneplus 9 Series

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

Aside from stealing some of the limelight from Samsung's Unpacked event, the OnePlus promotion also effectively planted the idea in consumers' minds that they could essentially get two OnePlus 9 phones for the price of one of Samsung's new foldables (like the Z Flip 3 at $999). I'd argue that OnePlus could've gone even further with the gimmick and had the phone fold four times because that's how many half-price OnePlus 9s you could buy for the cost of a new Z Fold 3!

You could get 2 OnePlus 9s for the price of a Z Fold 3.

I would love to see more of these types of deals and discounts six months from a phone's announcement. They're a great way to re-generate interest and excitement in devices that are still really, really good and that blow away anything in the low to mid-range.

Maurice Klaehne of Counterpoint Research pointed out that this promotion isn't exactly new, as T-Mobile had already announced it back in March of this year. Even still, I wouldn't be surprised if OnePlus moves more 9s than it had been doing so in recent months. I also wouldn't be surprised if the OnePlus 9 outsells both the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 at T-Mobile for the foreseeable future. Half-off the OnePlus 9 puts it in the $350-ish range, and at that price, there's nothing that can really touch it. What else is available here? The Google Pixel 4a? Okay, but you lose out on a 120Hz display, huge battery, and multiple camera setup (plus, the 4a is getting harder to find since Google announced the Pixel 5a). The Moto G.... anything? C'mon, son, those can't compete with the OP9.

Numbers don't lie — OnePlus is steadily picking up the market share that LG left behind at T-Mobile.

Mr. Klaehne's data seems to back up my assertion, as he points out that "OnePlus has grown its market share in T-Mobile to around 3% of sales as of June 2021, and it has well over 20% market share in Metro by T-Mobile." Growth is good, and with LG's exit from the uncarrier (and all carriers), Klaehne suggests OnePlus could see even more gains in the coming months. He also points out that "Samsung's foldables in the past have made up less than 1% of overall Samsung sales due to the high cost of these devices and the more niche nature of them."

Even though the foldable category is set to explode, I still believe more people want value rather than flash at this point in time.

I mean Samsung no disrespect here: the company makes amazing smartphones beloved by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. But as amazing as the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 are, I'm still not sure that the world is ready for foldables. Now before you excoriate me in the comments section, I acknowledge that these devices move us a lot closer to mass acceptance and adoption. Counterpoint's own research even predicts that foldable smartphone shipments will grow ten times by the year 2023, and Mr. Klaehne also told me that his firm expects Samsung to be able to convert previous Note owners to the new foldables via trade-in and carrier incentive deals.

However, I can't help but feel that these super-premium phones are a little tone-deaf to many people, especially with how good cheap Android phones are getting these days. I think that the prospect of getting a premium phone at a budget price is an extremely appealing prospect and one that OnePlus was smart to jump on. We reached out to OnePlus for more on this story, but it declined to comment further at this time.

OnePlus 9 Sandstone Case

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The OnePlus 9 was already one of the best Android phones of 2021. Hopefully, for OnePlus, this little publicity blitz will lead more people to realize just what a great and affordable Android flagship it is.

Now, if we could only get the OnePlus social media team to chill for a minute...

Jeramy Johnson

Jeramy was the Editor-in-Chief of Android Central. He is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand.