OnePlus, Inviting Social Success

OnePlus Two

The smartphone industry is easily one of the most competitive in the modern market, if not, the most. Apple and Samsung continue to dominate with huge marketing budgets and ever increasing customer loyalty. Factor in concepts like Apple’s leasing programme and it’s now more difficult than ever for the little guy to make it. The most public examples are HTC, who have now stopped posting financial projections, and BlackBerry, a platform with a smaller user-base than Samsung Tizen.

One small manufacturer looking to shift this paradigm and carve out its place in the marketplace, is OnePlus, a Chinese manufacturer based on a team from Oppo. OnePlus have taken the approach of low-price, high feature, aiming at the savvy mid-range consumer.With almost no budget, they have deployed guerrilla tactics to grow a fanbase of early adopters and savvy consumers, not unlike Apple in the buzz they generate, even if at a smaller scale.

OnePlus clearly understand that going toe-to-toe with Apple and Samsung in a marketing war is futile, as many have tried and failed to reach the mass market (HTC for example, whose ads seem content to bounce between weird and bizarre). So OnePlus haven’t bothered. Through social media and an approach to sales which defies standard practice, OnePlus have managed to make headlines across the web. Coupled with a buying system that favours a select percentage, the short supply and high demand has gotten people talking with their famous ‘Invite-only’ approach.

What’s most interesting about OnePlus’s social media campaigns is that they’re entirely organic and driven towards invites; relying on user-generated content and stirring up demand to drive awareness among like-minded people. Example social campaigns have gone from destroying your own phone on YouTube in order to obtain a OnePlusOne invite, to their current campaign of a reflective Instagram-selfie for the OnePlusX.

OnePlus have a huge benefit to play with: they’re brand new. Less than two years old, they’re a company which can afford to take a few calculated risks. With no marketing budget, and no real profit for a company still in it’s early stages, their approach is much more engaging, much more fun and has a specific focus; get people to want an invite.

The biggest challenge for OnePlus, is that it might not be a drop in the ocean forever. Currently, they’re doing all the right things. Their stall at the Dublin Web Summit had people lining up for invites, even though they weren’t quite sure what exactly the phone was, or who OnePlus were. The invite-only list added to the intrigue and people started sharing their OnePlus selfies. It’s a clever strategy to generate awareness, and it’s paying off.

Unfortunately, when you’re no longer a drop in the ocean, Samsung and Apple begin to pay attention, shareholders begin to look for profit (which currently OnePlus reinvests into its devices) and you need to change your marketing approach. Mass market devices can’t be sold via invite-only and online shopping for smartphones is still relatively uncommon globally.

OnePlus is beginning to think about this and how they can keep up newsworthy and engaging campaigns, which create ‘Fear of Missing out’. There are signs of a shift, albeit a slow one. OnePlus is now opening its online store for general sale for one hour per week. It might not sound like much, but it’s a step towards mass purchase that the company needs to consider.

The strategy behind their approach towards moving into the mainstream is fairly clear; as the company grows, all content should encourage invites and create exclusivity. All the while, they can perfect their next generation of phones, which move closer to the real mid-range of the mass handset market. At what point the strategy moves from upstart to traditional will be the real test for OnePlus.

OnePlus2 and OnePlusX, should you settle?

This year at the Dublin Web Summit, OnePlus were out on display showing off their two latest handsets, the OnePlus2 and the OnePlusX. Both phones are fantastic, to hold in the hand and play around with; they’re responsive and lovely. While the OnePlus2 looks almost identical to the OnePlus1 (which is no bad thing), the OnePlusX is unmistakably something different. It’s a lot slicker, a lot more sheen and a lot more premium.

Both phones are not only nice to hold, but in a year when handsets have gotten bigger, it’s refreshing to hold something which you can hold and type on with one hand. However, it’s not what these phones have which is of interest to me (the spec sheet gives most mid-high range handsets a good run), it’s what they don’t have.

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2016 will undoubtedly be about two things; Mobile Payment and USB type-C. Both are in their infancy now, currently only a few select countries support Apple Pay, and Android Pay is US only. USB-C is even more rare, with only the Google Nexus range supporting this. It’s surprising then that neither OnePlus support NFC, or fingerprint sensors. Only the OnePlus2 supports USB-C, the X has dropped this.

While this is not a huge problem at the moment, it will become one. It’s unusual for new flagship releases to fall in any way behind for a young company hoping to make its stake in a competitive industry, particularly when it’s target audience is heavily geared towards savvy consumers, and tech enthusiasts.

At a basic level, if you’re not the kind to compare spec sheets for phones; if you’re in a region with Android Pay, you won’t be able to use your new OnePlus to pay for things. You also won’t be able to utilise fingerprint support, which more and more apps are beginning to integrate.

As to why these were omitted, the official reason boils down to price. With a limited user-base, and an extremely competitive price point of €399, it’s a question of whether you want the new high-end flagship, or you want something that doesn’t break the bank, but still has good specs. Speaking with their staff at Web Summit, in Dublin, their customers also just didn’t really use NFC, and didn’t really see the point in fingerprint sensors. It’s a fair reason on which basis to exclude it, NFC does have limited uses outside of payments at the moment, the same goes for Fingerprint sensors.

What I found interesting was the reason the USB-C was excluded from the X. It seems to come down to bulk, the Type-C connector is a little bigger than the traditional micro-USB, which again seems a fair enough point. While it means the X won’t support faster charging, the 2525mAh battery should charge just fine the old-fashioned way. Arguably this is the thing people will least miss from the spec-sheet. Cables take a long time to become obsolete and Micro-USB will be around for a while. The focus from OnePlus was very much to keep the X looking as sophisticated as possible – it’s something they’ve achieved very well, the X is a very good looking phone.

Price can often be a lazy explanation, so too can ‘bulk’ or wanting to keep aesthetics. You don’t have to look too far to see a competitor delivering on price and specs in one bundle, even if it misses out a little on aesthetics; Nexus 5X. Certainly the US price is extremely competitive and it’s able to integrate a very good fingerprint reader in there also. Apart from that, it’s not a terrible looking phone – but it’s certainly not as premium looking as the OnePl

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usX.

Holding both handsets, it can be hard to believe they’re as cheap as they are. Well built and very premium looking, the screen, camera are all very sharp. They’re responsive and while not quite high-end, they’re definitely punching above the mid/low-end weight. Of the two, the X definitely had the edge for me. It was slicker, lighter and snappier than the 2, it also appeared to have a sharper screen and more responsive camera. The hardware is really great, sturdy and you could almost forget it’s as cheap as it is especially with that battery, which is strong.

The one thing that confuses me is the omissions. Granted price is a factor, but NFC is a fairly cheap technology, also the people had spoken, they don’t want USB-C, they don’t need NFC or fingerprint sensors, for now. While you certainly can’t argue the price, it could be seen as a cynical way to get people buying their 2017 model. Fit the moment though, if you want a cheap phone to replace next year, you could do a lot worse.