Why the OnePlus Concept One is going to be a gadget that you can’t buy


OnePlus has seen a meteoric rise in the last couple of years on the heels of its highly successful premium flagship killing smartphones. In big-ticket emerging markets like India, OnePlus is now amongst the favourite premium smartphone brands, while globally it is accepted to be the maker of the most well rounded Android smartphones outdoing the likes of even Samsung and Google, the progenitor of the Android operating system. This year at CES it is unveiling a concept phone which it calls the Concept One designed in partnership with McLaren with whom it has partnered to launch the last two special editions OnePlus smartphones. Even though this phone basically a OnePlus 7T Pro with new back cover and special materials, why isn’t this a phone that it intends to sell?

What’s the OnePlus Concept One 

At its core, the Concept One is a rehashed OnePlus 7T Pro with same form and design but with new, premium material which gives it an exquisite McLaren inspired look. The new bits include:

  • A vapour gold finish on the side rails on top of the standard aluminium finish of the OnePlus 7T Pro. 
  • Papaya coloured leather back making the phone feel more premium and sturdy apart from the fact that it matches the McLaren theme. 
  • An electrochromic glass sheet covering the camera assembly running across the back in-between the leather shaped like a race track. 

Yes, this means you’re getting the same cameras, the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ chip, the same bezel-less 90Hz OLED screen and same front pop-up camera.

Why these materials make for a concept 

It is quite clear that OnePlus is looking at the future with these materials so that it craft what might be the next generation of premium phone material science. 

  • A plush leather finish has been a theme in many smartphones that have had special edition models inspired or designed in partnership with iconic car brands. The Porsche design smartphones by both BlackBerry back in the day and currently, Huawei makes liberal use of premium leather. Plush leather is a signifier for comfort and luxury which some of these phones intend to project to a high profile clientele. 
  • The vapour gold finish is a new way of implementing gold on a smartphone in a cost-effective way which could pave the way for implementations in the future. This is a great way to add that gold bling but without the crazy cost of 24 karat gold. And since, gold is soft, this way the phone can retain the strength of aluminium but with the bling of gold. 
  • Electrochromic glass is used in McLaren supercars for the sunroof. The sunroof can transform the ambiance inside the vehicle by becoming opaque through an electric pulse giving the passenger an option between different lighting scenes. This glass is also used in the windows of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. On the OnePlus Concept One, it hides the camera lens on the back. This could come in handy in the future as increasingly, there are more cameras on the back. 
  • The electrochromic glass also acts as a filter for the camera which makes it more sensitive to the light in dark conditions when activated in “pro mode”. This could possibly improve the camera and perhaps OnePlus could play with this to make a play for a true flagship-grade camera. 

Why this doesn’t make sense for a consumer product

  • Leather has been overdone on smartphones. This isn’t something new which is why it wouldn’t be a major selling point for the phone of the future. It has probably made way to retain the unique McLaren theme. 
  • At the end of the day, gold is still amongst the softest metals around. Even in its vapour solidified form, it is not something that’s not going to attract scratches. OnePlus probably figured that it can’t sell a gold plated phone which will get scuffed in a jiffy. Perhaps with iteration with this concept they can figure out a way to put gold on a phone without it getting scratched. 
  • The electrochromic glass on the back while unique doesn’t quite solve the problem of the camera bump on smartphones. OnePlus says it is the thinnest and fastest electrochromic glass at o.7 seconds for opacity refresh. However, users never minded seeing extra cameras on the back, they have an issue with grotesque looking camera bumps like on the iPhone 11 Pro and Google Pixel 4. Till this glass solves that problem it really isn’t needed.