Oxygen OS 11 is quickly making its way to OnePlus smartphones after Google released Android 11. The operating system offers the latest Android features combined with OnePlus’ internal improvements. However, the company hasn’t always had tight controls over the quality and speed of its smartphone software. In fact, OnePlus’ software started closely tied to the ROM modding scene back in 2014.
If you’re interested in OnePlus ‘humble beginnings, or just want to see how far the company’s software capabilities have progressed, join us in advancing OnePlus’ smartphone software.
Demolition from the mod scene
The OnePlus One was shipped with Cyanogen OS as the operating system – – a commercially developed version of CyanogenMod. In the heyday of avid Android spin-offs, CyanogenMod was arguably the most popular custom ROM developed by the community. Commercializing the project as Cyanogen OS caused some controversy within the community, and some users didn’t care about the software partnerships (bloat) added. However, this was likely necessary to ensure high quality support for devices running Cyanogen as the primary, out-of-the-box operating system.
Why did OnePlus use Cyanogen OS in the first place? Well, it offered a reasonably stock-like experience with high performance, a powerful theming engine, navigation bar options instead of buttons, an AudioFX engine, and a few other quality of life improvements. At the time, Samsung and the other big manufacturers were offering positively bloated user interfaces. The OnePlus One was comparatively a breath of fresh air. Not to mention the connections to the modding community instantly added the appeal of the handset to the enthusiastic audience.
Cyanogen OS was a breath of fresh air in the age of bloated user interfaces
Cyanogen OS actually shipped on a number of other smartphones, including the Wileyfox Swift and Lenovo ZUK Z1. Microsoft has reportedly invested in the company as well. If you’ve never heard of these phones, it probably speaks to the fate of the Cyanogen Project. Cyanogen Inc, the controversial trading company, closed in 2016.
OnePlus also saw some controversy in India where Micromax was given exclusive access to Cyanogen OS in the region at the expense of OnePlus customers. This ultimately led OnePlus to develop its own software. The company quickly began working on its own operating system, which later became known as Oxygen OS. But before we got there, the company also had to consolidate its Chinese development.
Color OS and Hydrogen OS: not just for China
While the original OnePlus One shipped with Cyanogen OS in most of the world, Chinese customers had Oppos Color OS. The two companies share some resources as part of the BBK Electronics brand. However, OnePlus was interested in spoofing its own identity and needed a custom operating system to do so.
Working on his in-house operating system resulted in Hydrogen OS for Chinese OnePlus One phones. A beta version was available for the OnePlus One before the OnePlus 2 was released in mid-2015, which users could manually flash if they wanted.
The first Hydrogen OS version, controversially, did not include a separate app drawer. The Quick Settings menu was swiped up at the bottom of the screen, and it was missing many of the popular features available in the global model. The software also included a market for apps outside the Google ecosystem and several other internal apps. It was experimental to say the least.
Hydrogen OS remained a China-specific version for several generations of OnePlus phones. The hydrogen and oxygen operating system finally merged in 2016 to speed up the upgrade process.
Enter Oxygen OS 1.0 and 2.0, a broken beta
OnePlus has brought a few too many operating systems under one roof with its first handset. The scene got even more complicated when Oxygen OS 1.0 was introduced for OnePlus One in April 2015. OnePlus One owners had to manually flash the new operating system, so it definitely wasn’t for everyone. The in-house operating system was largely adopted by Color and Cyanogen OS and has a stick-like interface, a menu for quick settings and gestures for starting the app.
Oxygen OS was only shipped immediately with the OnePlus 2. The phone was introduced with Oxygen OS for global variants and Hydrogen OS for China.
Oxygen OS first tried to fill the void left by Cyanogen
The short development period meant that early Oxygen OS builds based on Android Lollipop were a buggy mess despite their very off-the-shelf design. App crashes and freezes weren’t very common, but it was a notable part of the early experience. We had the same software reservations for the smaller OnePlus X.
To his credit, Oxygen OS was way ahead with a dedicated dark mode and app permissions, even though it ran on Lollipop. The software also included on-screen navigation buttons, gesture shortcuts and “shelf” to replace the Google Now screen. OnePlus definitely wanted to take over a number of features from the Cyanogen days, but it didn’t quite hit the experience on the first try.
Oxygen OS 3.0: clearing things up
Fortunately, OnePlus works quickly and the internal software is in much better shape with OnePlus 3 and Oxygen OS 3.0. Switching to Android Marshmallow helped buff the rough edges. The main features did not change much, but adaptation played an increasingly important role in the mission statement. Configurable softkeys, quick exchange of background images and shelf widgets ensured that OnePlus developed its own software experience.
See also: OxygenOS – 6 Features You Must Know About
Finding your own identity with Oxygen OS 4.0 and 5.0
The first three generations of Oxygen OS felt they had filled the void left by the Cyanogen OS debacle. But the fourth time was the attraction for OnePlus. The company’s software experienced a life of its own with Android Nougat and was further developed up to OnePlus 5.
For starters, errors and crashes were a thing of the past. Oxygen OS 4.0 also brought a reading mode that changed the entire screen to grayscale, a blue light filter, a non-interference mode, and a number of cosmetic changes, as well as fan favorites like dark mode. OnePlus kept a standard Android style overall, but the custom tweaks became more and more apparent.
OnePlus introduced many popular features before Google’s Android
OxygenOS 5 and Android Oreo have continued in the same way, with iPhone-style navigation gestures, an improved game mode, parallel apps, Face Unlock, and other UI improvements. The camera apps were loved as well as a video editing suite to expand the brand’s multimedia capabilities. The changes from OnePlus have been rather minor from generation to generation. But updates add up and in the past few years, OnePlus’ user interface has gone from being an outsider to one of the best in the business.
Into the modern age
With the introduction of the OnePlus 6T, Oxygen OS rose from version 5.0 to 9.0. The version introduced a new user interface that coincides with Android Pie, along with adaptive battery support, new gesture navigation, do not disturb mode with adjustable settings, and game mode 3.0. The custom functions really amassed this generation.
OnePlus continued to innovate and bring new features to its older phones, but this was starting to clearly affect the old, serial-like ethos. Newer versions of the operating system include Zen Mode and Dark Mode 2.0. OnePlus has also discontinued its shelf for Google Feed, which was probably the best. However, the range of tweaks and theme options has been further expanded to accommodate the amount of customization.
OnePlus is starting to put a bigger stamp on its Android experience
Version 10.0 introduces a further redesign of the user interface, extended location permissions and new adjustments to the icons for the quick settings. The operating system added smart display information, game space for a smoother gaming experience and message spam blocking. Bit by bit, OnePlus has developed a version of Android that feels very independent. The modern frills approach couldn’t be more different than the Cyanogen or even the early Oxygen OS tag.
Oxygen OS 11 and the future
OnePlus has made more noticeable changes with the latest iterations like Oxygen OS 11 based on Android 11. Version 11 offers a new, always available display design and further improvements to the dark mode. Other adaptations to the user interface facilitate one-handed operation. There’s also a new magazine style for the gallery app and other UI elements that are designed for aesthetics rather than pure function.
OnePlus interview: Behind the scenes with the controversial Oxygen OS 11 update
With the latest version of its operating system, OnePlus is making its footprint on Android to the chagrin of some old-school enthusiasts. Some have compared the new look more to Samsung’s One UI than to OnePlus’s standard Android roots. In truth, however, OnePlus has been developing its own functions for generations. The changes to the user interface are only more noticeable this time.
The love affair with enthusiasts makes way for more mainstream attraction
Looking ahead, it is clear that OnePlus is getting more and more ambitious and Oxygen OS is a central part of its approach. The talk about stocks has given way to “no load” software. The company has started adding region-specific features like OnePlus Scout and even preloading the Facebook app. OnePlus’ focus has gradually shifted from the enthusiast market to the pursuit of more mainstream appeal.
Whatever the future holds for Oxygen OS, a more persistent approach to customizing Android is certainly controversial. Although printing your own function has been part of the OnePlus approach for years.
OnePlus smartphones and software have come a long way from their early experiments with Cyanogen OS. Humble roots based on the custom ROM community and experimentation with Hydrogen OS have resulted in a feature-rich operating system that has been on the cutting edge of Android for the past few years. OnePlus has never really offered a bare-bones stock experience, but newer generations of Oxygen OS are increasingly mainstream. Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen.
Do you have a favorite era of Oxygen OS? Let us know in the comments below.