Apparently OnePlus is turning its habit of releasing concept phones every winter into a tradition. Following last year’s Concept One, OnePlus has just revealed the OnePlus 8T Concept.
Sporting what looks like tiny pools of water on its back, the OP8T Concept is quite a departure from both the standard model and last year’s leather-backed prototype device. Inspired by the Turkish hot springs of Pamukkale, these little pools actually contain a color-changing film that uses embedded metal oxides to change colors depending on the amount of electric current running through them. This allows the color of the film on the OP8T concept to change from silver to blue at a moment’s notice.
But that ain’t all, because OnePlus’ color-changing tech plays into the OP8T Concept’s other, more hidden innovation: It uses millimeter-wave radar (similar to what’s used in mmWave 5G) to detect nearby objects like your hand, similar to Google’s Motion Sense does on the Pixel 4. When combined, OnePlus say the OP8T Concept could be use to create touchless notifications on the phone’s back, allowing users to swipe away certain alerts with a well-placed wave, or even using the mmWave radar to create a visualization of someone’s breathing. It’s a neat trick (if somewhat gimmicky) but could be useful when used in conjunction with a mediation app or workout app for activities like yoga.
Now at this point, some people out there might be annoyed at the OP8T concept because, by nature, this phone is a prototype (with not a ton of real-world footage, I might add) that will never get made. It’s an intentional tease, and that frustration is one I can definitely understand, because I feel like a signature feature or new innovation is something OnePlus’ phones desperately need right now.
As OnePlus has grown, it has had to evolve from a company that started out catering to the desires of spec-obsessed phone nerds into that of a somewhat mainstream player. OnePlus sort of fills the role that HTC once played not too long ago. And while it’s most recent phone, the OP8T, is certainly a proficient device that meets or exceeds most modern smartphone expectations, it also feels like OnePlus was playing it safe and going through the motions so as to not offend potential customers.
And when I see phones like the Concept One and OP8T Concept, I find myself really wishing the tech OnePlus is showing off on these concepts would make its way to actual retail devices. With the growing shift to all-screen phones, that pretty much leaves the back of the phone as the only place for phone designers to really make a lasting impression, and something like color-changing glass (possibly arranged in a less distracting pattern) seems like a great way to differentiate OnePlus phones from the competition. The same goes for the leather back or electrochromic glass OnePlus put in the Concept One.
I like the thought and innovation that went into creating the OP8T, but my fear is that these prototypes might be similar to the futuristic concepts Razer used to tease every year at CES—like this triple-screen laptop concept—which were all exciting devices that never got made. At some point, simply teasing innovative concepts isn’t enough; there needs to be a path to production for at least some of the features. Otherwise, OnePlus is just a company that talks a big game about designs we’ll never see in devices you can actually buy.