OnePlus Shows Off a Phone With a Disappearing Rear Camera

In an era when our most important personal tech devices are all starting to merge into one hardly distinguishable, super-powered glass slab, smartphone makers will do anything to stand out. They’ll ship flexible displays . They’ll boast about faster screen refresh rates. They’ll peddle nostalgia .

They’ll even make camera lenses disappear. That’s the approach Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus is taking with its new prototype phone, the OnePlus Concept One. OnePlus is working with British automotive manufacturer McLaren to take the same glass technology found in high-end car sunroofs and aircraft windows and use it in a smartphone. The camera lens on the back of the phone sits under this special glass, the tint of which changes when the glass is triggered by an electrical signal. The effect is that the camera lens appears when you open the camera app, then vanishes from sight whenever the camera app is not in use. OnePlus plans to show off the concept phone at the annual CES electronics bonanza in Las Vegas next week.
The Concept One is exactly that—a concept—and OnePlus says it has no plans to ship it anytime soon. But according to Pete Lau, the OnePlus cofounder and chief executive who spoke with WIRED via video chat, the phone represents a “bold exploration for OnePlus, and is also a representation of overcoming a lot of [engineering] challenges.”

“With this approach, we’ll be able to produce smaller amounts of the product and, with feedback from a small group of users, look at the possibility of making a device that’s available for users more widely,” Lau said.

Glass EyeEven if you didn’t know McLaren was involved in the design, you might think the Concept One has a distinctive race-car aesthetic. The phone model I saw at a briefing in San Francisco last month had a papaya orange leather back, with visible stitching along the edges and a thin spatula of black electrochromic glass running down the center spine.The OnePlus Concept One has the same rear camera specs as the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren phone: a 48-megapixel main camera with a 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle camera. The difference is in the electrochromic glass on the Concept One. It effectively shrouds the camera from plain sight, so that the phone appears lens-less when the camera app isn’t open. Flick open the camera app, and a hint of a camera lens appears on the back on the phone. You have to look hard for the edges of it, as though you’re searching for something in a dark room.

Photograph: OnePlus