Oppo Shows Off New Tricks

Demonstrates under-screen camera and communication technology

This week at Mobile World Congress in Shanghai, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Oppo unveiled several new technologies in its efforts to challenge other major Android brands such as Huawei, Samsung and Xiaomi.

Oppo has been making significant investments in its quest to build a global brand and expand internationally (see Oppo Plots International Expansion). According to our Quarterly Market Analysis, in the first quarter of 2019, Oppo was the fifth largest smartphone maker in the world with 7.3% global market share. The company achieved this at a time when its domestic market is shrinking and dominated by Huawei. Building share outside China is therefore very important.

To reach its goal of expanding in the tough global mobile phone market, Oppo is relying on offering innovative, high-quality Android smartphones at great prices. In the past, Oppo, together with its sister brand Vivo (both brands owned by Chinese conglomerate BBK Electronics), have introduced several innovations in the industry, particularly in thin-bezel displays. Now, Oppo is pushing the boundaries of borderless devices further as it reaches for a phone with 100% screen-to-body ratio.

Oppo has been demonstrating its under-screen camera technology. This places the front-facing camera under a phone’s display, removing the need for a notch, teardrop shape or pop-up mechanism to house the lens. We know that all major smartphone brands are testing this technology as they work to get rid of “screen interruptions” to deliver a true full-display experience.

The under-screen camera technology integrates the front camera and screen, making it easier to design a smartphone with an immersive screen that lacks obstructions. It features a customized camera module that captures more light and uses a highly transparent material that more easily allow light to get through the screen. The technology also harnesses Oppo’s algorithm for haze removal and white balance to provide an efficient photography experience.

This type of camera technology is an interesting development and a step toward an all-screen phone. However, there’s still no word on when we can expect it to show up on a mass-production phone. Given that Xiaomi and plenty of other rivals are also working on similar solutions, there’s bound to be a battle among manufacturers to be the first to say, “new-and-improved, now with more screen than ever”.

Oppo also showed off another interesting and potentially disruptive technology, MeshTalk. This enables phones to send texts, voice messages and make voice calls within 3 kilometres without cellular networks, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. MeshTalk relies on a custom, low-power chipset that enables a local area network and relay communication system between various Oppo devices when they’re within range. It also allows multiple Oppo devices to create ad-hoc local area networks, offering group chat capabilities and expanding communication range through signal relay. The company explained that MeshTalk will be an invaluable tool in times of natural calamities such as cyclones and earthquakes, when cell towers are the first to take a hit.

Although these are very interesting features, Oppo understands that a few innovative updates aren’t enough to gain presence in mature markets like Europe. Working with mobile operators is crucial, and Oppo has recently struck the right chord by becoming one of the first manufacturers to launch a 5G-enabled phone, which has been listed by operators in several countries. In addition, Oppo is spending serious money on marketing to build its brand. It recently signed a five-year deal to become the first Asian sponsor of the Wimbledon Championships, a tennis tournament that’s particularly popular in the UK but also internationally.

Oppo’s ambitions are visible, and the company is clearly following in the footsteps of Huawei, positioning itself as a challenger brand, offering innovative products at great prices. If Huawei’s woes away from home persist, it will be extremely difficult for Oppo to compete against the wounded giant in China. But internationally, Oppo might be looking at an exceptional window of opportunity.