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Going all-in with foldable phones: Q&A with Billy Zhang, President of Overseas Sales and Services, Oppo

By Liu Hongzuo - 7 May 2023

Going all-in with foldable phones: Q&A with Billy Zhang, President of Overseas Sales and Services, Oppo

Note: This feature was first published on 29 April 2023.

Oppo Find N series at one of Oppo's Shenzhen offices.

Is the Oppo Find N2 Flip a lucky fluke, or is there something more to its foldable smartphone that Oppo isn't yet telling us? 

Billy Zhang, President of Overseas Sales and Services, Oppo.

To learn more, we spoke to Billy Zhang, President of Overseas Sales and Services at Oppo at his office in Shenzhen, China, and learnt a few things even the best at Oppo could not anticipate.

In our group discussion, we mainly looked at Oppo's market performance worldwide, the Oppo Find N2 Flip's considerations and challenges, and did our best to uncover what Oppo could offer in its next foldable smartphone. 

This interview was translated from another language and may reflect some differences from the original recording. It has also been edited for brevity.


Oppo's market performance in Singapore, Southeast Asia, and beyond

Oppo did well in Q1 2023 (30% market share, first place in China, among other regions). What are some advantages you would say Oppo has?  What are Oppo's plans in the European, North American, and Southeast Asian markets?

Advantages, I would say it's our history and experience over several generations of hard work. It's a combination of our research and development, and our reliability and durability demands for raw materials used in our products.

It's a long-term development resulting in over 1,000 patents and over 200 professionals working hard on Oppo foldable smartphones.

That's for our hardware. On the software side, we continually innovate to ensure that the folding form factor suits its purpose. A book-style foldable has very different use cases next to a clamshell foldable. We also work with third parties to innovate based on the device's useability.

If we dive into the Oppo Find N2 Flip, I would also add that the larger-than-usual battery capacity and the freedom to stay untethered are key factors. 

As for market performance (of the Find N2 Flip), it's not just limited to China. We were also number one in Thailand. I think Oppo did really well considering that we don't have that level of experience like a certain Korean smartphone brand with three or four generations of foldables.

Our performance rings true even in markets like Europe, where we saw 200-300% increase in market volume or share. To be honest, demand has outstripped supply, and we're literally just selling whatever devices we have on hand.

To us, our investment plans aren't exactly complicated. The demand for our foldables has increased, so we certainly do our best to meet that demand. You could say we are going all-in on foldables. 

Which markets would you say Oppo is strongest in? Any plans to enter new markets?

Well, China is certain. Some parts of Southeast Asia too, like Indonesia, and Malaysia. We're ranked second in Vietnam and Thailand. Globally, we're fourth, but the SEA region seems very welcoming of us.

We've entered every market we should've (laughs). Oh wait, we did enter the LATAM market two years ago. Our growth has been decent in every market, like in Mexico, we've seen about 15% growth, I think?


What do you think the SEA market particularly likes about the Oppo Find N2 Flip, especially since it's not the first foldable to reach the region?

I think, first, is the product. The idea of a "good product" is always relative to others. I think the markets in SEA believe that our foldable is not overpriced, and delivers an experience that other foldables can't.

Our marketing efforts, to be frank, were pretty run-of-the-mill and tailored to the market (for example, we hired celebrities to promote in Thailand). 

I would say the purchasing audience of the Find N2 Flip is also on the younger side, which fits very well with Oppo's overall brand image of being youthful and vibrant.


What is Oppo's overarching strategy for gaining even more market share in Southeast Asia?

Within Oppo, we look at optimising our resources (financially, and manpower-wise) to service our Southeast Asian users properly. Like now, we have chosen to prioritise our foldables after making a foldable product that the market enjoys. 

As for our actual strategy, we literally just do our best for every market that wants our devices.

It's 50% effort, 50% Heaven's will (laugh). It's an old saying, but I believe it.


Building the perfect clamshell foldable phone

What are some of the top user concerns about the Oppo Find N2 Flip?

We've heard feedback about the Cover Screen being a little lacking, so we're adding many features to the Cover Screen come May and June 2023, especially with the collaboration of third-party app makers.

Second would be the perceived gap between our foldables and our premium flagship range's expectations. We expect to close that gap, especially in terms of software, user experience, and device intelligence with the help of Google. 

We review our product's useability and experience regularly.


Oppo Find N2 Flip users have asked why they can't record 4K resolution videos when the clamshell's closed. Is Oppo able to address this limitation?

To be honest, it was a tough decision to limit 4K video recording with the clamshell closed. Our main consideration was heat management and performance throttling arising from 4K recording, and doing so with the clamshell closed would confer an unsatisfactory experience to users.

We've heard user feedback from Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia that our videography features need more work, and we're working on that. But first and foremost, we want to deliver a reliable foldable that lasts. 

What are some of the greatest challenges in building a foldable phone?

We're looking at controlling a foldable's weight and durability. It requires highly advanced materials to be both light and strong. For example, we can make the hinge even lighter, but I want it to be both lighter and stronger with newer materials. Weight is a huge consideration for foldables and we want to continue to find ways to lower it.

We also hold our foldable production to the same standards as regular bar-type smartphones.

Equally, the software experience must match the requirements of users and our own expectations. It's not enough that we get smooth software, but actually have software that brings out the value of owning a foldable phone.


What are Oppo's product considerations for future foldables?

Some may feel foldable should be about bigger displays. But we think a foldable phone is first a phone before anything else.

Also, it's not just about competing within foldable smartphones. Flagship and premium flagship phones have things like great imaging and other top-end features that are important to users. So it matters to us that our foldables are at the same level (of regard, features, and components) as premium flagship alternatives.

That's our general direction for our foldable strategy, which might differ from other competitors. 

Speaking of imaging, would there be better imaging performance for future Flip models? Or a tiered Pro variant that can address enthusiast photography needs?

No. Our focus is to make a single top-end foldable that will satisfy everyone. Stay tuned.


Would you say that the foldable smartphone market has matured?

(I think) it's still nascent. Foldables aren't even at their prime yet. Unlike standard bar-shaped handsets, foldables do not really have segmented market categorisations (flagship, entry-level, etc.) or vastly different models to cater to different audiences. For now, I would say most are trying to get foldables right. 

I say that because we're constantly seeing newer raw materials used to make foldables, and the lowering of material cost relative to supply-chain maturity. 

Also, foldables aren't strictly just one type yet. Bigger foldables like book-style ones end up with a different use case. If you ask me, it's more likely the market might find ways to increase the main display size of clamshell foldables, but I don't think that the magic bullet for foldables is necessarily about their size.  

Foldables, ultimately, need to suit the demands of users.


What are some new features we can expect the next Oppo foldable phone to have, in order for Oppo to retain its #1 spot?

Unfortunately, we cannot share the details. But I guarantee that you will think it's an all-around better experience. The upgrades will be extremely obvious. Stay tuned.


Other questions

Noticeably, foldable smartphones do not have charging adapters included in the box. Will this affect other Oppo products? 

If we remove the charging adapter, it would be Europe first. Our market research has shown that the European and U.S. markets are okay without a charging adapter, so if we do remove that, it would be gradually across markets based on their sentiments.

Our priority is user experience, so it's not about removing accessories unless we absolutely have to, even with our focus on sustainability. We shall follow our plans and timeline to balance consumer needs and sustainability goals. The same goes for our product packaging.

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