A reckoning is coming in the phone world in 2019.
The established players — namely Apple and Samsung — will face their fiercest competition yet from Chinese phone makers like Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo, which are all speedily racing to launch premium-quality phones with true all-screen designs that costs well below $1,000.
However, my crystal ball's telling me there's one particular Chinese phone maker that could finally leapfrog everyone and become a global powerhouse, and that's OnePlus.
OnePlus's rise to household name has been a long, winding journey years in the making. I've used and reviewed every single one of the company's phones since the OnePlus 2, even buying a few for myself and for my parents along the way.
In the last few years, I've had the chance to speak with OnePlus co-founders Carl Pei and Pete Lau and the company's many officers to get a more intimate picture of the people behind the products. This might sound like a love letter, but OnePlus is a genuine company that cares about its customers and that's so rare in the Android world.
OnePlus's small size (for now), guided by Pei and Lau's humble attitude towards not looking down at its fans, but making them a part of the hardware and software process (to a certain extent) has earned it the kind of loyalty struggling phone makers such as LG, HTC, and Sony would kill for.
Looking back at 2018, it's crystal clear it was a pivotal year for OnePlus. The company launched the OnePlus 6, OnePlus 6T, and the 6T McLaren Edition, all of which earned critical acclaim from reviewers (Mashable included) and fans alike.
No doubt, the phones lack some features found on the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phones (wireless charging and official IP water and dust-resistance are the two that jump out), but it's hard to beat OnePlus phones on bang for your buck. On performance, design, and battery life, OnePlus's phones stomp all over even Google's Pixel 3.
Moreover, OnePlus finally took serious steps towards making Americans notice its devices through an official retail partnership with T-Mobile and Verizon compatibility. And if you want to really heap praise on OnePlus, the company's expansion into high quality, but affordable wireless and wired headphones and versatile backpacks have further grown the company's ecosystem beyond phones.
For these reasons, the OnePlus 6 and 6T were our favorite Android phones of 2018, despite Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 packing in more features and the Pixel 3's Night Sight camera mode crushing the competition. These big strategic moves also position the company to drift into first place in 2019.
Projecting forward with what we know, 2019 could be an even more monumental year for OnePlus. The company's already committed to launching a 5G phone sometime this year. Last year it successfully sent a tweet over a 5G signal.
OnePlus will be one of the first phone makers to release a device with Qualcomm's next-gen Snapdragon 855 chip. The new mobile chip will bring a slew of improvements including faster processing, better power efficiency, improved photo and video capabilities including portrait mode for video, and more robust AI support, to name a couple of standout features.
Most interesting is the latest leak for a purported next-gen OnePlus (7?) device.
Serial phone leaker and concept artist Benjamin Geskin has created several concepts of what the next OnePlus phone could look like based on the purported leaks:
The leaked images suggest OnePlus's next phone could remove the tear drop-shaped notch on the OnePlus 6T and go full edge-to-edge screen using a sliding phone design similar to what we've seen on Xiaomi's Mi Mix 3 and Huawei's Honor Magic2, which you can see in action below.
A true full-screen phone design could give OnePlus the competitive edge over Apple, which is likely to stick with a sizable notch for its 2019 iPhone(s) in order to accommodate the TrueDepth camera system that's required for Face ID as well as Samsung's Galaxy S10 and its expected "hole-punch" camera cutout design.
In addition to a display design that would give OnePlus's next phone a much higher (and highly coveted) screen-to-body ratio, the company could finally include wireless charging as well. Sister company Oppo, which OnePlus leverages for supply chains and production, recently joined the Wireless Power Consortium, hinting the company is interested in Qi-based wireless charging found in many competing phones like the iPhone XS and Galaxy S9.
And let's not forget OnePlus is planning to make some kind of smart TV.
With so many major cards to play, OnePlus's global presence will only continue to grow. Sooner or later, its phones will command the kind of premium prices it's frowning on right now, but there's still quite a bit of runway to go before it gets there.
OnePlus's best bet is to not grow too quickly. Expansion is always welcome and a sign of success, but doing so at the expense of customer satisfaction and the product experience will do more damage than can be undone later.
Pei previously told me the OnePlus 2 and its overheating chipset as well as the company trying to chase the budget market with the OnePlus X were major lessons that taught him and the company to not bite off more than they could chew. Let's hope Pei and OnePlus remember these learnings in 2019.