For years OnePlus’ target audience has been enthusiasts and geeks with the brand focusing on premium Android smartphones to rival the likes of Apple and Samsung. On Thursday, the company launched OnePlus 5T, and in a first hosted the event in New York to mark the global debut of their new smartphone. The launch reveals a lot about how the Shenzhen-based company has managed to secure a name and place for itself in the crowded smartphone market.
“A lot has changed in the last four years in the mobile industry. But the theme for us is still the same. We kept the same focus in terms of what we are trying to do, which is to make premium Android flagships, talk directly to consumers and offer the software proposition that tech enthusiasts and consumers want,” Kyle Kiang, Global Marketing Head for OnePlus told indianexpress.com on the sidelines of the OnePlus 5T launch.
OnePlus has scaled its operations in the past few years, and the brand is now well-known outside of China. India, for instance, is one of the biggest markets for OnePlus. The older OnePlus 5 has been the top selling smartphone in the premium category in the online space in India, according to International Data Corporation’s (IDC) latest numbers.
“More and more people are learning about OnePlus. Indians consumers are much smarter as they buy the device directly. American consumers are still in a different purchasing process and just learning that option. In a lot of ways Americans are behind Indians, but more people are learning that as well,” he added.
With its OnePlus 5T, the company hopes to attract users with a taller 6-inch 18:9 display, but at less than half the price of the iPhone X and Galaxy S8+. OnePlus 5T is a supercharged version of the OnePlus 5 and is the second premium smartphone offering from the company this year. It essentially packs in the same specifications as a OnePlus 5 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, Oxygen OS software based on Android 7.1.1, Dash charging support and same memory configurations. OnePlus 5T even costs the same, starting at Rs 32,999, undercutting the competition. The phone hits the US, European and Indian markets on November 21.
OnePlus 5T also comes with “Face Unlock” that unlocks the phone using front-facing camera. It’s only 2D and not 3D like Apple iPhone X’s Face ID. The company says the front-facing camera on the OnePlus 5T helps in identifying 100 reference points in your face and is one of the fastest on Android.
The information is stored on the device and not loaded somewhere else. “Face Unlock will work in dark but it won’t work in the pitch-dark. I have used it in an Uber at night and it works in the dark. We are looking to make it better via a software update in the near future,” said Kiang.
Over the past few years, OnePlus has changed its strategy to sell devices to potential consumers. Instead of expanding its current portfolio, OnePlus refreshes the flagship smartphone twice a year. Last year, it launched the OnePlus 3 in the first-half, followed by a slightly better OnePlus 3T towards the end of the year. The strategy might be working for OnePlus, but it has also disappointed many fans.
Asked about the reason for a mid-cycle refresh of its devices with a “T” variant, Kiang replied, “We can move pretty quickly within the supply chain, so when a new technology comes out, we look at it and see if it makes sense. If it does, we go with it.”
While its competition is gradually increasing focus on offline sales in India, OnePlus does not seem to be changing its approach of selling smartphones anytime soon. OnePlus phones can be purchased either from Amazon India or the OnePlus store online. If someone wanted to buy the phone from an offline route, it can be done through OnePlus Experience Stores in Delhi and Bengaluru. Though OnePlus made some changes in its strategy recently when it tied up with Croma outlets to expand the availability of the OnePlus 5 in the country.
“We started as a digital brand, and we are still very much a digital brand. And that will not change. We do have experience stores in India, but for us at the end of the day what is important is users getting to experience OnePlus,” says Kiang. “We are very happy with the response we got to our experience store…If that model works, we will definitely look at expanding.”
Disclaimer: The reporter is in New York attending the launch of OnePlus 5T at the invite of OnePlus India, which is paying for accommodation and travel.