Zen Mode Explained: What It Is and What’s to Come


Zen Mode Explained: What It Is and What’s to Come

Product 2021-05-16
As consumers continue to spend more and more time online and, on our phones, disconnecting can be extremely hard. But it’s becoming ever so important to do so. Co-created with the OnePlus Community in 2019, Zen Mode was developed to enable OnePlus users to break away from their device and concentrate on other tasks, without the constant distraction of the next notification, ping or ring. We caught up with OnePlus’ Robin Wang, product owner for software features such as Zen Mode to explain what Zen Mode is, why it’s important and what’s to come in the near future.

Q: Hi Robin! I would like to start by congratulating you and your team for winning an iF Design Award for Communication with Zen Mode! For those who are unfamiliar with Zen Mode, can you give a brief explanation of what the feature does?

Robin: Thank you for having me! Zen Mode is a feature perfect for those who tend to get distracted by their phones, or simply want a moment of peace. What Zen Mode enables is for you to set a specific amount of time, say 30 minutes, during which your phone will go into a state that is similar to ‘Do Not Disturb’, but with more customized features. While you will not be able to use most of the phone's functions, like social media apps, for that set amount of time, you can still make phone calls and use the camera. Also, while in Zen Mode, you can freely choose to turn a white noise on or off during the time period. We have five special themes and sounds to match. It can help you meditate or relax better, or do something more focused, such as studying or reading.

Q: Isn’t it quite funny that a smartphone company is suggesting users to lock their phones? Why is a feature/app like Zen Mode important to the digital usage of consumers?

Robin: As we all hopefully know, nowadays, people are becoming more and more addicted to their smartphones, which not only occupies our fragmented time, but even makes some people feel anxious, distracted or insomniac. While OnePlus is a smartphone company, it's important for us to value the balance of technology and health of our users, so everyone can better enjoy the original fun of life.

Q: Why are there different backgrounds for Zen Mode and how is the purpose of each one different?

Robin: As you can see, we have five different themes and background sounds. We designed the themes of ocean, space, grassland, blue space, and twilight through a semi-abstract, semi-analog design approach. We hope they will make it easier for you to enter a state of relaxation. For example, I like the ocean theme very much. Whenever I look at it quietly, I imagine myself diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the sunlight shooting into the clear sea, the waves shimmering, as the ocean sways in rhythm with my breathing. In this moment, I forget about my worries at work and focus in my own Zen space.

Q: For its most basic function, why are there options for 1 minute, 30 minutes, and up to 120 minutes? What user scenario would be fit for each time duration?

Robin: We found that many users were afraid to try Zen Mode at first, fearing that their phones would turn into bricks that they could not recover, and that even a 20-minute experience would leave them feeling overwhelmed. Therefore, we implemented the 1-minute option to allow those who are hesitant to take the first step. On the other hand, for those who are already familiar with Zen Mode, we offer the option of 120 minutes to help them better focus and concentrate. One user, in particular, told us that he was anxious during the pandemic and would turn Zen Mode on for a long-time to help him fall asleep better through white noise.

Q: And it looks like you can also do group sessions. Was there a demand for this by our users? What led to your team’s decision to add a group Zen Mode feature?

Robin: Yes, there are some suggestions and ideas from OnePlus users, and some insights from the team designers. In the end, we decided to design such an extreme experience because we noticed more consumers could benefit from this feature, even if they weren’t OnePlus users.
Q: I must ask: Do you use Zen Mode yourself? If so, how do you use it in your day-to-day?

Robin: Of course! When I want to fall asleep more peacefully, or when I want to get away from endless message conversations and focus on reading a book, I turn on Zen Mode. The use-cases are limitless and really come down to each user.

Q: Are there any plans to expand on the current Zen Mode app? Maybe new ways for users to satisfy their digital wellness and stay focused?

Robin: Yes, we are planning to add a new Zen medal campaign, incentivizing new and existing users with a small reward for participating! I can also reveal that we are planning some new digital wellbeing features in the next OxygenOS.

Q: For the last question, do you have thoughts or things to say about digital wellbeing in general?

Robin: Smartphones are our tools, not our shackles. Thinking of the times without smartphones when we still had just as much fun as we do now. As the slogan of Zen Mode states: Put down the phone and enjoy your life!