The OxygenOS-ColorOS merger was inevitable, and I’m looking forward to it

The OxygenOS-ColorOS merger was inevitable, and I’m looking forward to it

OnePlus has changed a lot in recent years, and I think the writing has been on the wall for a while now about what exactly the company was going to become. I, like many in the community, held OnePlus to a higher standard as an enthusiast brand. Whether or not that was realistic, it was abundantly clear that for the company to grow, the enthusiast market alone wasn’t going to cut it and the mainstream audience would need to be tapped in.

OnePlus would need to consequently adapt to better fit the needs and expectations of the average consumer, and it seems we’re at a crucial junction for this once again with the recent announcement of the OxygenOS-ColorOS merger. But despite everything, this development makes me the most excited that I’ve been for anything OnePlus-related in a very long time.

OnePlus India R&D Center in Hyderabad

It has been an open secret for years now that OnePlus devices are based upon other devices in the BBK arsenal – usually OPPO’s, but tech is shared with Realme as well. Even the OnePlus One, the very first OnePlus smartphone, wasn’t a whole lot more than just an OPPO Find 7 rebrand. It offered something that OPPO didn’t, though — a presence focused on the west, pretty good marketing around a “flagship killer” mantra, and a hard-line focus on device enthusiasts. Obviously, it worked, and the company’s popularity has been on an upwards trajectory ever since.

Despite all of that, it was almost inevitable that at some point, OnePlus was going to become more ingrained with OPPO. We’ve been hearing for a long time now that OnePlus and OPPO shared resources, and the companies officially acknowledged in January of this year that the two are merging their hardware R&D divisions. A little while later, it was confirmed OnePlus was going to merge even further into OPPO. They’ve now announced extended software support times for their smartphones, stating that much of it was made possible thanks to resources offered up by OPPO. In that same announcement, OnePlus also confirmed that OxygenOS will be merging with ColorOS.

After a lot of evaluation and discussion, we’ve come up with a solid plan to best leverage our shared resources with OPPO. In order to improve efficiency and standardize the software experience across our portfolio, we’re working on integrating the codebase of OxygenOS and ColorOS. This is a change that you will likely not even notice since it’s happening behind the scenes. We now have a larger and even more capable team of developers, more advanced R&D resources, and a more streamlined development process all coming together to improve the OxygenOS experience.

OxygenOS is merging with ColorOS, and I’ll be perfectly honest — I’m excited.

OnePlus 9 Pro beside the OPPO Find X3 Pro

A breath of fresh air for OxygenOS

OxygenOS is in dire need of changes. It has a reputation for being “light” and like “stock Android”, but that’s only how it looks. There are some pretty heavy under-the-hood changes to the kernel on the OnePlus 8 as an example, according to arter97, and one can only wonder if there are even more changes now.

OnePlus smartphones have a pretty poor reputation for software updates and stability, particularly as OxygenOS updates have added bugs and made phones unusable in recent times. Notifications are also a problem, and so is the battery life. We’ve covered all of these in our OnePlus 9 Pro review, but the bottom line is that OnePlus has some great ideas, but the execution is often lacking.

The problem with ColorOS is that many years ago, it had a reputation of being an iOS clone. If I’m honest… yeah, I know why it did. It looked like iOS, and not in a good way. That changed with ColorOS 7, where it quickly became my favorite Android variant on the OPPO Find X2 Pro and with Realme UI on the Realme X50 Pro. It also isn’t perfect, but it does a lot of what OxygenOS can’t.

It feels like OxygenOS has stagnated over the past couple of years with the same set of bugs over and over again, whereas ColorOS consistently added new, useful features. There are more advanced customization options, a smart sidebar, and a far better camera system even though the OPPO Find X3 Pro uses a similar camera sensor as the OnePlus 9 Pro. In fact, the OPPO Find X2 Pro was my favorite phone of last year.

Does that mean ColorOS is perfect? For sure not. There are some things in the UI that I prefer with OxygenOS, but I think ColorOS has the right idea with its features and it still looks clean. The best part is by the sounds of things, OxygenOS will likely end up looking the same in the West, and will instead just have ColorOS underneath.

Think of it as if there was an OxygenOS theme over ColorOS, which is what I think OnePlus is trying to do. Bringing the parts of OxygenOS that people like (look and feel) to the best parts of ColorOS (features and quality software); sounds like a winning combination. It will also keep up the illusion for most people that OxygenOS is the same as it always was.

ColorOS on the left, with corresponding elements of OxygenOS on the right

The OxygenOS-ColorOS merger can also streamline the process of adding features too. “Stock Android”, as a lot of people have experienced it, is not actually stock Android. Even Google Pixels don’t run stock Android, and AOSP itself is devoid of a lot of features and Google apps. If average consumers actually used a pure AOSP ROM, they’d quickly realize half of the features they expect from their modern smartphone are missing. While the idea of a clean Android build sounds pleasant, all OEMs have to resort to adding elements on top to cater to the demands and expectations of their userbase.

OxygenOS too went through this process. Calling it a clean “stock Android” build might have held some truth in the early days of the UX skin, but the situation right now is far removed from it. OxygenOS is heavily modified, even if the UX doesn’t give any indication of it. OnePlus, and by extension, BBK through OPPO, needed to make a lot of changes to the UX skin to get it where it is right now, and they’d need to continue with these efforts in the future.

With ColorOS as the base for OxygenOS, the process gets streamlined for OPPO-OnePlus. Features can be directly added in ColorOS, instead of needing to be conceptualized, written, and implemented separately in two different Android variants. If OxygenOS continues to look the same, then most users will not know any better about what’s happening underneath. BBK saves time, development becomes more streamlined, and hopefully, we’ll end up with a better OxygenOS experience as a result.

It’s likely not all going to be perfect though, and I’m only making an assumption that OnePlus will keep the same look and feel. The Android 12 Beta for the OnePlus 9 Pro is basically just stock ColorOS, likely because we presume it’s built upon that unified codebase. If Android 12 on the OnePlus 9 Pro ends up looking like the OxygenOS we all know and love, then that basically confirms OxygenOS will now be a skin layer on top of ColorOS.

ColorOS can benefit too

As much as I believe this change can benefit OxygenOS, I think it can benefit ColorOS as well. OnePlus has invested a lot into OxygenOS over the years, and the merger into ColorOS allows ColorOS to take advantage of these resources too. For instance, OnePlus opened an OxygenOS Research & Development facility in Hyderabad, India, in 2019 which was planned to be the office for over 1,500 employees.

The OnePlus R&D center in Hyderabad, India

There’s also the Camera Lab in Taiwan, and very likely many other such offices and software labs spread across Asia and Europe.

That’s a lot of development power and other infrastructure and resources that can now be re-diverted into not only OPPO, but also to others within OPPO, like Realme. Sure, OPPO and Realme may also have their own separate infrastructure in place, and one could argue that compartmentalization was not necessary to begin with; but at least now, sharing such resources will spread the benefits to all.

Despite the problems OxygenOS has, there’s no doubt that it, at the very least, performs well. OxygenOS is “smooth” in a lot of ways, and it’s often lauded for its performance in gaming and other intensive tasks. In our OnePlus 9 Pro review, we confirmed the excellent performance of the OnePlus 9 Pro in games like Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated.

The experience taken from developing OxygenOS can be merged into ColorOS, bringing the best of both worlds to handsets. It’s nowhere near a guarantee, but merging ColorOS and OxygenOS isn’t merely going to be a one-way street. The best of both worlds can theoretically come to both OxygenOS and ColorOS as well.

It might not be the smoothest transition

To be clear, there’s always the chance the merge with ColorOS is entirely botched. The problems introduced like buggy software updates and broken notifications could be reintroduced again, in which case the merge will have been all for naught in the hands of consumers. There’s also the problem that not everyone likes ColorOS. A lot of people prefer the look and feel of OxygenOS, and there are no guarantees that OxygenOS will continue to look and feel the exact same way a few more years in the future. The OnePlus 9 Pro is likely the best device to keep an eye on for that.

The further OPPO-fication of OnePlus is also something many people are against, and it might not bode well for some aspects of the company’s future phones. OPPO doesn’t allow bootloader unlocking on their smartphones, so who’s to say the OnePlus 10 (or whatever the next cycle of flagship phones from the company is) will have an unlockable bootloader? Who’s to say the software support will be there? Will updates on OnePlus phones get quicker or will they get slower as the same development team ultimately takes on more devices? There’s a promise of extended software support, but delivering on promises is entirely different than making them.

There’s a lot of reason for optimism and excitement, but it’s not going to necessarily be entirely smooth sailing. There’s plenty that can go wrong, but there’s plenty that can go right too. That’s why I’m excited for the future of both OxygenOS and ColorOS.

About author

Adam Conway
Adam Conway

I'm a senior editor at XDA-Developers. I have a BSc in Computer Science from University College Dublin, and I'm a lover of smartphones, cybersecurity, and Counter-Strike. You can contact me at [email protected] My Twitter is @AdamConwayIE and my Instagram is adamc.99.