Samsung’s launch of the refined, but largely unchanged Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Flip 4 last week are as a good a sign as any that folding phones are here to stay, but despite all the work that’s been done to iron out the kinks, they still cost an arm and a leg.
Which makes the idea of an affordable foldable enticing, and the rumors that OnePlus — the once and still king of cheap, but really well-rounded phones like the OnePlus 10T 5G — could launch a folding smartphone of its own legitimately exciting.
Evidence so far — Now the evidence collected by 9to5Google to support this still feels circumstantial, but the thought experiment is worth exploring.
Pete Lau, OnePlus co-founder and current chief product officer at Oppo cryptically tweeted images of hinges with the caption “What do you think this is?” on August 12 — a clear attempt at stealing a little thunder from Samsung’s Unpacked event. On the surface, maybe that’s a fun peek into company research, but taken with rumors that Oppo is looking to follow up its first foldable, the Find N 5G, with two new ones in the vein of Samsung’s Flip and Fold, it becomes a bit more interesting.
Previously, leaker and writer Max Jambor had teased that OnePlus might launch a foldable in 2023. He later clarified yesterday, August 15, that the two rumored Oppo handsets are actually in joint-development by both Oppo and OnePlus.
While it still has its own distinct branding, OnePlus is technically part of the same big happy family as Oppo, so using the company’s designs, or even being the North American face of Oppo’s new foldables isn’t out of the question.
The more interesting question to answer is what these new phones might cost if they do come out in the U.S. next year.
Price is key — After doggedly pursuing folding smartphones for four generations, Samsung has proven that a new form factor will get people interested again. But it’s also highlighted that there’s a limit, and it’s entirely based on price.
Yes, “almost 10 million” folding smartphones were sold last year, as Samsung’s president TM Roh revealed in July, but specifically, the Galaxy Z Flip made up 70 percent of Samsung’s sales. The Flip is the cheaper, $999 folding phone, that’s often aggressively discounted by carriers. And this year Samsung opted to leave the price for the Z Flip 4 and the $1,799 Z Fold 4 entirely unchanged.
The opportunity for OnePlus is finding a way to beat Samsung to the punch. What compromises can be made to a foldable to bring its starting price under $1,000? I’m not entirely sure, but Oppo and OnePlus seem like the companies to try and figure it out.