Oppo unveils foldable smartphone Oppo X 2021, new AR glasses at Inno Day

At Oppo's online keynote 'Inno Day' earlier this week, consumers and tech enthusiasts were given a glimpse into what the Chinese technology giant has in store for the future.

Out of the smorgasbord of announcements, the two early-concept products that most caught my attention were a foldable smartphone dubbed the Oppo X 2021, and the latest augmented reality glasses: AR Glass 2021.

Oppo X 2021

Oppo getting in on the race to create the perfect foldable phone is welcome news. Multiple companies are tentatively dipping their toes into the exciting yet murky waters of foldable phone technology.

And despite having to wade through an hour of corporate jargon delivered by Oppo founder Tony Chen as it was announced, there are elements of the X 2021 that seem genuinely innovative.

Existing as a hybrid between smartphone and tablet, the X 2021 features a large 6.4 inch OLED screen that expands into a tablet-sized 7.4 inch screen with the push of a button, via tiny motors within the phone. This tech, which could be thought of as 'pasta roller-motion technology', is unlike any other foldable phone currently on the market. 

The screen of the X 2021 is forged as one piece of high-strength, highly-flexible laminate, coined by Oppo as 'Warp Track' technology. While other foldable phones typically have a perspex plate between two glass panels leading to that unmistakable ripple, the X 2021 is one pure sheet of screen, so you'll see no obvious join.

That 7.4 inch screen is going to be a game-changer when it comes to movies and games, and will be something consumers may start to look for when buying a smartphone-tablet hybrid.

During the keynote, Oppo proudly announced it had patents on both the motorising technology and the Warp Track screen, meaning this unorthodox folding phone may be the only one of its kind.

While it looks great in concept, day-to-day use of X 2021 has some big question marks over it. Oppo will need to ensure both the rolling screen and the motors behind it are strong and durable, and able to go the distance against traditional smartphones.

They'll also need to safeguard against the X 2021 accidentally upsizing in your pocket, which is likely to ruin both a good pair of jeans and a very expensive phone.

I'm also stumped as to how you'll apply a screen protector or case to the X 2021, but I suppose we cross that bridge when we get there.

Finally, making sure the phone doesn't skimp on any key hardware in favour of gimmicky new tech is going to be essential when justifying the phone against other smartphones in the same price range. We've seen this happen with other foldable phones like the Motorola Razr, and it seems consumers don't respond well to sub-standard technology in supersonic-priced smartphones.

However, should the X 2021 come to market with no severe drawbacks, consumers may well flock to the quirky design and potential uses as a tablet. We don't know prices yet, but I'd ballpark it at upwards of NZ$1800, which is more than Oppo's flagship device, the Find X2 Pro.

This kind of tech is a pricey venture in research and development and can be very costly to manufacture, but expect the X 2021 to be competitively-priced against foldable phone foes from Samsung or LG.

Oppo AR Glass 2021 unveiled at Oppo Inno Day 2020.
Photo credit: Oppo

Oppo AR Glass 2021

The other announcement of note at Inno Day is the new augmented reality glasses, which Oppo has uninspiringly dubbed the AR 2021. This is Oppo's first serious foray into augmented reality technology, which if the X 2021 is anything to go by, will likely result in some pretty serious innovation.

There's a hefty amount of hardware slated to go into these slick frames. The concept model includes a fisheye camera lens, infrared sensor and high-definition camera, which provide improved field-of-view and depth perception for the on-board rendering software.

Sure, this is technology standard in most smartphones and tablets, but to squeeze it into a pair of glasses is an entirely different ball game.

It's an adventurous move from Oppo. Previous attempts to win over the public with augmented reality by industry leaders like Google have been expensive flops, with the technology typically unrefined and overpriced.

For the Oppo AR 2021 glasses to find success, it's going to be absolutely crucial Oppo provides adequate support in apps and games for consumers - after all, something has to justify that undoubtedly hefty price tag the glasses will come with.

But should the launch of the AR Glass 2021 go smoothly, there's potentially a huge amount of success to be found in this market. Augmented reality technology could possibly shake up fields like construction and surgery, with the ability to convey crucial information in real time that blitzes any traditional computer or tablet. 

Pair the AR glasses with a drone and you could eliminate the need for costly personpower during building or infrastructure inspections. Display anatomical charts during surgical procedures and you could minimise the time spent away from the operating table.

It could also do things like show music tablature to musicians during live performances.

This is a market corner screaming to be conquered and if Oppo can succeed where others have failed, then this may be the gold mine the tech company has been searching for.

Final thoughts

In a year where COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the technology sphere, it's comforting to see a tech company innovating while others simply tread water.

Innovation aside, advancements in compact technology and augmented reality are what will spur rival tech companies to push the boundaries on their own technology, which is what gives consumers access to the really cool technology.

We really are living in the future.