“Oppo’s four factories in China produce 700,000 phones”
“No, every day.”
On a recent tour to Oppo’s factory in Shenzhen, China, I was left speechless when the guide uttered that figure. As we walked through the facility’s endless stacks of production and assembly lines, it occurred to me what does it take to hold the second spot in the world’s biggest smartphone market.
However, while Oppo continues to grow in its home ground, it had to reshuffle its India strategy to curb the declining share. In Q2 last year, the company was at 10% followed by 8% in Q3, 6% in Q4, and 6% in Q1, 2018. Now, as per CounterPoint’s latest report, it’s now back up at 10%, an upswing which has been primarily led by its new online-exclusive brand, RealMe. The visit was preceded by a freewheeling chat where the product team discussed a medley of existing products and future plans to establish a more prominent presence in the second-biggest smartphone market — India — where it has been unable to expand the same way companies like Xiaomi have and move beyond that ten percent.
The nucleus of this talk was, of course, the company’s most recent launch, the Find X. Phone makers in India tend to stick to the price segment they’re known for and efforts to leave that comfort zone have been futile for many. So when Oppo, a manufacturer which has been selling devices below the Rs 25,000 mark, introduced a flagship that costs as much as the most premium phones out there, it did raise a lot of eyebrows.
“The Oppo Find X Isn’t Entirely About Sales”
So why the gamble? As it turns out, the Find X in India isn’t supposed to fetch a slice of India’s premium smartphone market. Instead, Oppo hopes the phone will act as a catalyst in uplifting the brand’s general image to higher price ranges and wants to let the Indian buyers know it’s capable of a lot more. Through that, Oppo will gradually move up to the league of brands like OnePlus, Honor. While Oppo didn’t reveal any specifics to us, it did say it might launch phones around the Rs 30,000 price bracket soon. Perhaps, starting with the Oppo R15 (or R19)?
The Find X itself isn’t just another beefed up flagship smartphone, obviously. The all-screen phone’s ability to hide its three camera sensors through a motorized module has spawned a multitude of debates on what the future of bezel-less designs looks like. Most notably, how reliable mechanical modules would be once they undergo normal wear and tear of a phone. Oppo is aware of the downsides this approach brings and mentions it is first of the many edge-to-edge designs it’s working on. Therefore, if things don’t pan out well, there’s a chance the second-generation of Find X may have entirely different mechanics to hide components such as the selfie camera.
“VOOC Charging on a Budget”
The majority of Oppo’s revenue in India, however, will continue to come from its more affordable line of phones. And one of the key features the company is thinking to add for overcoming the likes of Xiaomi’s Redmi series is VOOC charging which is capable of topping up a phone to 75% under thirty minutes. Another route the company is considering for refreshing its budget line of phones is — surprise, surprise — in-display fingerprint sensors. Whichever way the company eventually decides to head, it’s clear it will be the first since both of those features are not yet available at the sub Rs 20,000 category of phones. But the question remains whether an Indian buyer will choose novelty over a complete package?
Sadly, it will be a while before we’ve special facial recognition hardware at budget costs even though the company has already begun getting rid of the fingerprint sensor on a few of its entry-level phones. Oppo justifies that by saying it’s “AI-based” face unlock is quite secure, as quick as a fingerprint scanner, and can’t be fooled by a picture. While we did find those claims to be true in our reviews, it’s still unacceptable since all of their competitors are offering a fingerprint sensor as well as a software-based face unlock feature at similar prices.
Unlike Xiaomi which has been building up its Mi ecosystem in India with products apart from phones, Oppo doesn’t have a lot to lean onto either. Although it’s gearing up to change that. The company says it will be soon launching its new O-Free wireless earphones in the country to take on devices like the OnePlus Bullets Wireless.
Two cameras? Thee cameras? Maybe.
Being one of the leading smartphone brands right now, it also matters what Oppo thinks is next for smartphones. While it couldn’t comment anything concrete on that, the company is hinting at introducing phones with a three-camera rear arrangement. Why? One of the use cases it mentions is 3D-modeling which could be later employed for Augmented Reality applications.
While it’s true that Oppo isn’t doing as well in India as they were a couple of years back, it’s clear that they won’t sit back and watch the show, but actually keep trying to win back the lost ground. With several factories across China, India, and the resources to develop phones like the Find X, we’re sure the company will conjure up a way out.
Disclosure: This correspondent was in Shenzhen, China on an invitation from Oppo.