Chinese smartphone maker Oppo began designing its own processors a few years ago in an effort to establish more control over the hardware that powers its devices.

Now the company has shut down the subsidiary that was responsible for designing those chips, according to reports from the South China Morning Post and Bloomberg.

The subsidiary was named Zeku, and it was established in 2019 to help Oppo design chips that could be used in the companies phones.

Rival companies like Apple, Samsung, and Huawei have been designing their own ARM-based chips for years, and using those processors to power smartphones, tablets, and other devices. but the first few chips from Zeku have been more limited in nature.

For example, the MariSilicon X image processing chip was released in 2021 and helps power some of the AI-enhanced camera experiences on select Oppo smartphones. Zeku was also said to be working on WiFi and Bluetooth chips.

It’s unclear exactly what led to the decision to shut down the unit entirely, but according to IDC, global smartphone shipments overall took a hit last year, and Oppo saw one of the biggest declines, with nearly 23 percent fewer phones shipped in 2022 than in 2021. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see the company looking to cut costs. But by doing that, Oppo does run the risk of abandoning one of the few features that could have, at least theoretically, helped its phones stand out in a crowded marketplace.

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  1. “It’s unclear exactly what led to the decision to shut down the unit entirely”

    I would consider this decision from the perspective of increasingly harsh US sanctions on the Chinese semiconductor sector, it’s something that is noted in both the SCMP and Bloomberg’s articles.

    1. Agreed, but I would also say a world wide economic slowdown is part of the problem too. Look at all the layoffs in the tech sector that have been happening. Everyone is trying to tighten their belts.

      1. Sure, the economic slowdown quite likely made the option of trying and stick with what they were doing with Zeku even less palatable. Still, by itself probably this slowdown wouldn’t have convinced them to abandon their efforts altogether, Marisilicon was instrumental in differentiating their offer and it was received fairly well. Without their custom NPU they’ll have a hard time surviving as anything but a budget smartphone maker.

  2. OnePlus realises how hard it is to manufacture phones, so they repurpose Oppo devices. Oppo realised how hard it was to build chipsets, and how affordable MediaTek chipsets already are. MediaTek makes affordable chipsets, and they realised how hard it was to make Custom Processors, so they use Standard Designs and license them. Apple makes Custom Processors and they realised how hard it was to build the design from scratch. ARM pays well, hires top talent, designs the platform for all of this… even they base this on the foundation of RISC from the 1980s. And even further back it goes to Turing, Computing, and General Mathematics.

    It goes even deeper if you look at the software side of things. Everything is a Remix.

    1. OnePlus and Oppo were always part of the same company, along with Vivo, and they’ve always shared components.

    2. I agree. Zeku appeared to be an attempt to emulate Mediatek’s chipset development. Zeku partnered with companies which have access to TSMC’s best processes. I interacted with Zeku people and it appeared like they were over-staffed… Lots of people doing busy-work. I wish that they would have just done layoffs instead of shutting the whole thing down.