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Home News Is OnePlus done? What next for the “Flagship Killer?”

Is OnePlus done? What next for the “Flagship Killer?”

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Almost 18 months ago, a little known Chinese company by the name of OnePlus announced its arrival into a saturated marketplace in a big way, with the OnePlus One.

Dubbed the “Flagship Killer”, OnePlus adopted a strategy that revolved around viral marketing and aggressive pricing, and at the same time kept a high demand for their phone (or arguably the illusion of it) by making it difficult to buy, thanks to the (dreaded) invite system. The buzz around the company’s first handset was certainly large enough to see it through an entire year and while users have still ‘battled’ to get invites for this year’s OnePlus 2, the cracks are beginning to show in OnePlus’s armour.

Faced with rivals adopting parts of the model that proved so successful for OnePlus, coupled with the company’s public and abject failure in launching the OnePlus 2 properly, we’re asking: is the company done? Can it recover and if so, where does the “Flagship Killer” go from here?

What made OnePlus special?

Before we can look at the future of the company, we need to revisit its past to discover (and remind ourselves) of the things that made OnePlus special last year.


oneplus-logoSee also: Is OnePlus going to launch a Mini too?41

As a company, it launched with aplomb through clever teasers, a solid smartphone offering and a willingness to be public in its dislike of overpriced rival flagship devices. There’s an age-old saying that “You want what you can’t have” and this is a fundamental ingredient around the success of the OnePlus One; a short amount of supply.

OnePlus One in video:

Far too often, startups hope to dominate the world from day one and these lofty ambitions result in over estimation of demand, resulting in too much supply and a bottoming of the price. The net result is the company ends up selling its stock at a loss and eventually falls by the wayside. To prevent the same, OnePlus came up with the invite system, which allowed it to only produce enough handsets to meet demand but of course, the company underestimated the demand (or did it?), resulting in stock shortages for the better part of a year.

Aside from the inability to buy the OnePlus One, resulting in an increased desire for consumers to own one, the handset was also special as it was the first time we’d really seen a company offer a flagship handset at an affordable price (aside from perhaps the Nexus 4 and 5). Although the likes of Xiaomi had done this before in select markets, OnePlus gained significant global traction very quickly and much faster than any of the established players had managed.

Were we looking at the birth of a new force to be reckoned with in mobile? At the time, yes; now, over a year later and several months after the OnePlus 2, the answer is unequivocally no.

What went wrong for OnePlus?

In a word; the OnePlus 2.

The OnePlus One was fantastic as OnePlus shocked the industry by offering the same specs as the flagships of the year at a significantly lower cost, but in the year that passed between these two handsets, OnePlus’s rivals caught up and surpassed the company.

Let’s take a look at the OnePlus 2 specs and how it compares to the flagships:

  OnePlus 2 Galaxy S6 One M9 Xperia Z3+ LG G4
Display 5.5-inch LCD
Full HD (1920 x 1080)
5.1-inch AMOLED
QHD (2560×1440)
5-inch LCD
FullHD (1920×1080)
5.2-inch LCD
FullHD (1920×1080)
5.5-inch LCD
QHD (2560×1440)
SoC Snapdragon 810 Exynos 7420 Snapdragon 810 Snapdragon 810 Snapdragon 808
CPU 4x 2.0GHz Cortex-A57
4x 1.5GHz Cortex-A53
4x 2.1GHz Cortex-A57
4x 1.5GHz Cortex-A53
4x 2.0GHz Cortex-A57
4x 1.5GHz Cortex-A53
4x 2.0GHz Cortex-A57
4x 1.5GHz Cortex-A53
2x 1.8GHz Cortex-A57
4x 1.4GHz Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 430 Mali-T760 MP8 Adreno 430 Adreno 430 Adreno 418
RAM 4GB (64GB model), 3GB (16GB model) 3GB 3GB 3GB 3GB
Storage 16/64GB 32/64/128GB 32GB 32GB 32GB
MicroSD No No Yes, up to 128GB Yes, up to 128GB Yes, up to 128GB
Unlocked Price $329 (16GB), $389 (64GB) $700 $650 $650 $540

Now let’s take a look at the OnePlus 2 specs again and this time, how it compares to other similarly priced handsets:

  OnePlus 2 Huawei Honor 7 Moto X Play Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 BLU Pure XL
Display 5.5-inch LTPS
Full HD (1920 x 1080)
401 ppi
5.2-inch IPS-NEO
Full HD (1920×1080)
424 ppi
5.5-inch IPS
Full HD (1920×1080)
401 ppi
5.5-inch IPS
Full HD (1920×1080)
401 ppi
6.0-inch AMOLED
QHD (2560×1440)
490 ppi
SoC Snapdragon 810 Kirin 935 Snapdragon 615 Mediatek Helio X10 Mediatek Helio X10
CPU 4×1.82GHz Cortex-A57
4×1.56GHz Cortex-A53
4×2.2GHz Cortex-A53
4×1.5GHz Cortex-A53
4×1.7GHz Cortex-A53
4×1.0GHz Cortex-A53
4×2.2GHz Cortex-A53
4×2.0GHz Cortex-A53
8×2.0GHz Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 430 Mali-T628 MP4 Adreno 405 PowerVR G6200 PowerVR G6200
RAM 4GB (64GB)
3GB (16GB)
3GB 2GB 3GB (32GB)
2GB (16GB)
3GB
Storage 16/64GB 16/64GB 16/32GB 16/32GB 64GB
MicroSD No Yes, up to 128GB Yes, up to 128GB Yes, up to 32GB
(Chinese version)
Yes, up to 64GB
Camera 13MP rear
5MP front
20MP rear
8MP front (+LED flash)
21MP rear
5MP front
13MP rear
5MP front
24MP rear
8MP front
Video 4K, 1080p, 720p slo-mo 1080p, HDR 1080p 1080p 4k, 1080p, HDR
Camera Features: OIS
Laser Autofocus
OIS Phase Detection AutoFocus
Effective Stabilisation
Phase Detection AutoFocus OIS
Laser Autofocus
NFC No No Yes TBC Yes
Battery: 3300mAh
Non-removable
3100mAh
Non-removable
3630mAh
Non-removable
3060mAh
Removable
3500mAh
Removable
LTE LTE Cat 4 (150/50) LTE Cat 6 (300/50) Yes (Cat TBC) Yes (Cat TBC) LTE Cat 4 (150/50)
Other Features: Dual SIM
Fingerprint Sensor
USB Type-C
Dual SIM
Fingerprint Sensor
Fast Charging
Fast Charging Fast Charging Dual SIM
Fingerprint Sensor
USB Type-C
Unlocked Price $329 (16GB)
$389 (64GB)
~$381 (16GB, £249) ~$426 (16GB, £270)
~$487 (32GB, £319)
$128/$144 (16GB)
$160 (32GB)
$349

As you can see, OnePlus ‘suddenly’ faces significant competition from more established players who have the distribution channels and partners to put their devices into more hands quicker than OnePlus can.

Coupled with this, OnePlus also failed in the launch of the OnePlus 2, which the company has publicly admitted; ahead of the handset’s launch, OnePlus said they would have 30 to 50 times the amount of inventory, yet they repeatedly missed dates for releasing invites and even after the handset’s “launch” on August 11th, customers with invites couldn’t buy the handset. The dreaded invite system, which worked so well for the company in its first handset, proved to be its downfall.

The OnePlus 2 also has another big issue; value for money. Last year, customers rushed to become part of OnePlus’ flock as the OnePlus One offered the same specs as handsets that were double (or more) the price. Ahead of the announcement, the rumours looked to be that the OnePlus 2 would do just this, with rumours suggesting that a Quad HD display, NFC, outstanding camera and much more would all make it onboard.

What actually transpired was that the OnePlus 2 failed to bring the Quad HD screen we expected – instead it has a 5.5-inch Full HD display that doesn’t stand out in anyway – and failed to have NFC, with the company suggesting they left it out as no-one uses NFC. There’s just one slight problem with the latter; mobile payments are growing to become a large part of the smartphone industry and the lack of NFC immediately rules out the OnePlus 2 from this key growth market.

Furthermore, OnePlus launched the OnePlus 2 by saying it was a “2016 Flagship Killer” and this is certainly a bold claim from the company. Let’s look at the OnePlus 2 specs again and when you’re reading through them, ask yourself one question: would a flagship handset in 2016 with these specs interest you or will the industry have moved on? I know what I think.

   
Display 5.5-inch LCD, Full HD
Processor 1.8GHz Snapdragon 810
RAM 3 or 4 GB (depending on storage option)
Storage 16 or 64GB storage
Networks US GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/8 FDD-LTE: Bands: 1/2/4/5/7/8/12/17EU/India GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/5/8 FDD-LTE: Bands: 1/3/5/7/8/20
Software OxygenOS based on Android 5.1
MicroSD No
Dual-SIM Yes
Wireless Charging No
Fingerprint Scan Yes
Camera 13MP rear
5MP front
Battery 3,300mAh
Dimensions 151.8 x 74.9 x 9.85 mm, 175g

The success of OnePlus last year was also largely down to the company being an unknown player with customers unaware of how the company would handle repairs, support and returns. Naturally, with the OnePlus One proving to be so appealing, these questions were put to the back of customer’s minds but a year later, customers had a lot more information and it wasn’t pleasant reading for OnePlus.

Simply put, the company doesn’t understand returns, repairs or support. Looking across the interwebs, there’s a lot of complaints about the company’s lack of action when it came to fixing issues and even when you want to return your handset.

Some of you may point towards these being false but I can say that they seem to be accurate; a friend of mine (Holly Brockwell) had a range of issues with her OnePlus One and when requested a repair, OnePlus asked her to provide video proof of each individual fault before they would even discuss the repair. To take it a step further, the company seems to have outsourced its entire customer service department with Holly receiving the following reply to an initial email about battery life concerns: “I’m sorry to hear about the problem with your XXX”.

While these were issues when dealing with the OnePlus One, it doesn’t seem that the company has improved this much in the year that’s passed. Looking at the OnePlus forums, there’s certainly a lot of people who feel the hype has died and, although I’ve not used one extensively (but have briefly), I do feel the same.

Yes, the OnePlus 2 is definitely a lovely phone and it has a lot of positives but from a marketing perspective, the handset fails in its bid to be a 2015 Flagship Killer, let alone a 2016 Flagship Killer as OnePlus is dubbing it.

What next? Is OnePlus done?

So what next for the Chinese company that has grown to be similar to marmite in that you love it or you don’t. Can it survive in a market where the big names are now encroaching into the same part of the market that OnePlus so successfully carved a niche in for itself?

In a word: maybe.

Being a startup, OnePlus has had to be different in its approach to ensure the long term survival of the company, but while the approach certainly worked with its first handset, the company misjudged exactly what its competition would do this year. There’s no denying that the company does understand customers and what they want from a smartphone but some decisions in the OnePlus 2 make no sense. NFC chipsets are certainly not expensive and the decision to leave it out of the OnePlus, coupled with the rest of the specs, suggests the company’s bottom line has come before the same fact that set it apart; flagship specs at a reduced price.

OnePlus 2 in video:

Yes, the company can easily release another handset next year and it might pick up from the OnePlus One and prove to be a real flagship killer but doing so would only admit that the OnePlus 2 was a mistake.

What else can they do? Some suggestions include merging with another company – after all, OnePlus co-founder does want to intern at Samsung (read into that what you will), attempting to release another handset (but would it be successful?) or even being aggressive with pricing to really drive the cost of smartphones down.

All of these suggestions could theoretically work on paper but in truth, it does seem that OnePlus’ time is coming to an end. Had they launched the OnePlus One a year earlier and this year’s OnePlus 2 last year, it’s quite likely we’d have a completely different tale to tell but the fact is; in the past year, the big OEMs have launched heavily into the mid-range marketplace and rather than OnePlus offering flagship specs at a mid-range price, the company is now arguably just another mid-range player.

It will continue to sell a few phones but the glory days certainly seem to be over. After all, if companies such as BLU can offer a flagship phone with a Quad HD display and NFC at the same price as the OnePlus 2, there’s really no reason that OnePlus couldn’t have. Apart from its bottom line, that is.

What do you think, agree with my assessment or disagree completely? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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