Last week we dropped by the offices of what has to be one of China’s most interesting mobile device companies – OnePlus. A company quite like no other in China, OnePlus plan to enter the ultra competitive Smartphone arena with one top of the range device backed by slick and sticky marketing, and their own vertical distribution channel. When the OnePlus One smartphone launches later this month, the company will also be the first of its kind to enter the market on a global scale from day one. Let Mobile Geeks introduce you to undoubtedly one of the newest, coolest and most ambitious technology companies in China.
OnePlus has very quickly grown from a mere ten or so people back in December of last year, to a predicted 400 souls by the end of the year. This incredible growth is self evident when you arrive at their offices in the Futian district of Shenzhen City, China. The office, much like the company itself, is very much still under construction; after you get past corridors lined with cardboard boxes on the floor, you are met with rows of open floor desks flanked by state-of–the-art ergonomic chairs, juxtaposed by bare unpainted ceilings and the generally dusty environment that is at best half finished. Not that this affects the atmosphere of the place which is one of subdued excitement and a sense of being part of something very, very special. Even the company dog has an expectant gleam in his eye.
The core of the team at the outset consisted heavily of ex-OPPO employees, indeed CEO and founder Pete Lau was a Vice President at OPPO. The company launched officially on December 17th of 2013 and has since set in motion a strategy that is completely original, and wholly untested in China. To say these guys are disruptive is a massive understatement.
The OnePlus strategy can best be outlined in three simple goals:
• Build the best Smartphone that it is possible to currently build using the latest hardware components and a killer mobile OS.
• Build an e-commerce platform for online sales, backed by your own global distribution channel.
• Build a solid brand that evokes loyalty from end-users who appreciate owning the best mobile device on the market.
The OnePlus One Smartphone
OnePlus will release its debut device, the One, on April 23rd – a mere ten days from now – and unlike almost every other device vendor on the planet, OnePlus intend to only do a single flagship product. Although the final full and complete spec sheet is still a well guarded secret, we now know the basic hardware components. The display will be 5.5 inches in diameter and although that would seem to place the device in competition with, let’s say the Samsung Note 3, we were told that in fact the device will have virtually no bezel, and remain closer to the Samsung Galaxy S5 in terms of actual handset dimensions. The screen itself is a JDI (Japan Display Inc.) at a Full HD resolution of 1080 – in short we expect the screen to be a real stunner.
We also know that the processor used in the OnePlus One will be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, an LTE compliant, quad-core Cortex-A7 system-on-chip (SoC) clocked at 2.5GHz packing the Adreno 330 GPU. Interestingly, the OnePlus was originally designed with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, but they decided to go with the Snapdragon 801 because of the faster 578MHz graphics processor and the fact that the newer 801 supports eMMC 5.0 NAND Flash memory which should help give the device faster app loading and better responsiveness overall.
The Snapdragon 801 is now well established as the top mobile SoC today, recently featuring in a slew of high-end devices including the Asian version of the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Oppo Find 7. The OnePlus One also packs 3GB of RAM, something that many enthusiasts have been pushing for in recent top-tier launches, mirroring the Sony Xperia Z2 and Oppo Find 7.
In terms of cameras, the OnePlus One is going to boast a 6 lens, 13 MP rear facing Sony Exmor camera, plus a 2MP camera on the front. Details about the senor array that accompanies the 13MP camera is not entirely clear at this stage, but we can be fairly sure that additional sensors will allow for post processing features including image re-focusing. Here are some sample photos that were leaked.
The device also supports StyleSwap replaceable covers; currently their blog identifies Silk, Sandstone, Denim, Bamboo, and Kevlar textures.
Collaboration with CyanogenMod
Of course software is also a vital area for any flagship device, so it’s pretty interesting to see that OnePlus have chosen to go with a customized version of the now popular CyanogenMod OS, in the shape of Android 4.4 –based CyanogenMod 11S. CyanogenMod has long been a real favorite for many of us Mobile Geeks, bringing a sleek Android experience that unites the simplicity of a vanilla Google Nexus OS experience with a more edgy and customizable build.
Steve Kondik, CayanogenMod lead developer had this to say about the collaboration, “By combining our software expertise with Pete’s background in hardware and design, we’ll develop a phone that will exceed both of our expectations.” This will be the first time the popular ROM maker will have input into the design of a Smartphone launching with their product.
Steve even got hands with the marketing effort with this humorous faux unboxing video last week:
Here is a leaked image of the 11S CyanogenMod build, originally posted by Richard Lai at engadget.
Update: Here is an image from the OnePlus blog that shows off the OnePlus UI.
The e-Commerce Platform and Distribution Channel
The Google Nexus line of devices really showed the world that it is possible to sell tablets and smartphones online. Most end-users leverage the contract they have with their carriers to purchase a device at some point, but that 2 year contracts inevitably imply that at some point you will need to purchase a new handset. The market exists, the retail channel has potential, but you need the e-commerce platform and the distribution network to make it happen.
OnePlus have been extremely ambitious in this regard, building not just an e-commerce, direct sales web platform, but also setting up a distribution network involving warehouse space around the globe, all controlled from autonomous Hong Kong subsidiaries that OnePlus have setup to closely control the supply side of the business. Once established, this distribution network can also be leveraged to accommodate 3rd party products, perhaps initially catering for compatible accessories but eventually growing to rival other global distributors.
This is a key element to the OnePlus strategy, placing the company in the unique position of being able to closely control product inventory, product returns and replacements which ties in directly to customer sales and services. It is as ambitious as hell, but if they can pull it off, they will have massive potential advantages.
Establishing a Loyal, Enthusiastic Customer Base
Although it notoriously hard to characterize the quickly evolving and fast moving Chinese device manufacturing hub of Shenzhen and indeed China as whole, it’s fairly accurate to say that most have traditionally avoided resource-intensive marketing – especially compared to monolithic brands such as Samsung and Apple. Even when we take budget concerns out of the equation, brand creation itself is something most Chinese manufacturers either avoid completely (remaining OEM/ODM only), or engage in marketing and branding only at the rudimentary level. High-level brand identity creation that we see in the West takes time, effort and the right kind talent. None of this is easy in Shenzhen, where issues such the bottom line, careful supply chain control and time to market reign supreme.
Although OnePlus are not spending even a tiny fraction of the marketing dollars that we tend to see with the top global brands, they have set about creating a brand identity that end users can relate to. The slogan ‘Never Settle’ speaks of striving to be the best and at times their social media campaigns have appeared to be questionably arrogant for a company yet to unveil an actual product. Make no mistake, this is part of their strategy; make a statement of intent that cannot be ignored, ramp up the tension with a shroud of secrecy coupled with a steady flow of specification and pricing leaks on social media, until the world finally realizes you have arrived, and you mean business.
In the four years since its inception, Xiaomi has proved that leveraging social media can really help establish a company as a brand. Their level of engagement on social media is truly remarkable, with the company brand becoming something equal to cult status. While OnePlus still have a long way to go until they can brag about social media numbers anywhere close to those Xiaomi have achieved, the company understands the importance in creating followers, not customers. OnePlus hope to create their own cult, with OnePlus fanboys and girls adopting the mantra of ‘Never Settle’.
Available in 16 countries for less than $400
OnePlus have begun rolling out more details about the launch, with the OnePlus One smartphone arriving in 16 countries at a really aggressive and pivotal price point of just under $400 (for non-EU countries, and 350 Euros for Europeans). Countries listed currently include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We can expect the US and the UK to arrive on that list in the next few days.
The sub-$400 price point is very aggressive for a smartphone with the specifications that OnePlus are promising. We cannot wait to get our hands on the OnePlus One next week, not just to see if they can deliver a product that live up to the hype, but also get hands on with a device that could end up disrupting the entire global handset market.