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Opinion: Google needs to replace OnePlus as king of sub-$700 smartphones

Google has struggled to find a real foothold in the mobile smartphone market. The company has muddled its way through four generations of the “flagship” Pixel line. Each has been a compelling device but they’re usually hindered by head-scratching compromises that lead to putrid sales numbers.

Conversely, OnePlus has seen almost the opposite trajectory. The Chinese-based fan favorite has found real success by giving users most of what they want without breaking the bank.

As we hit the middle of 2020 you might be able to argue that OnePlus has left Google with an opportunity. Given the cost of the OnePlus 8 Pro is up some 34% over the previous models, it’s not quite the value it once was.

At $899, the OP 8 Pro is priced at a premium level for the first time and by doing so, OnePlus may have overstretched its historical consumer base. Hell, the OnePlus One was only $299.

The 8 Pro is still cheaper than the Galaxy S20+, but it’s a huge jump for people loyal to the OnePlus brand. Google needs to capitalize on this to finally make a serious push with the Pixel 5.

There are already a plethora of rumors pointing to Google making a shift from premium specs to more of a “Goldilocks” approach with a Qualcomm 765 series processor instead of the more hungry 865 chipsets. Google needs to pair this mindset with an awesome marketing push and a reasonable price to replace OnePlus in the $649 to $699 price range.

Price matters more in 2020

Price and marketing matter more than most realize and Google has missed this to date on every Pixel. Yes, you’ll see ads the first few weeks after launch but those have quickly faded in the past. Google has to be more like Apple and Samsung than maybe it wants. People should see the ads so much that they get sick of them.

Pricing is the Pixels other sore point. The line has been consistently expensive for the compromises in hardware.

Those consumers that do nab the phone on day one are often quickly insulted by massive discounts within weeks of release. Why bother messing around? Just launch at $649 for the Pixel 5 and put the XL at $699.

OnePlus has a solid blueprint for Google to follow: stick to the basics. Make a good phone and price appropriately. Then you’ll build a solid base of users.

Without those faithful users, you can’t win anything. You can’t ask for nearly $1,000 without proving your loyalty first. Loyalty is built on trust and so far Google hasn’t shown it can consistently do that. It’s time for a change.

Google, please don’t alienate or anger your early adopters. These loyalists want your phone enough to pre-order them or rush to buy in the first week. You’re essentially punching them in the gut when you discount in the ensuing month.

Google needs a similar approach to smartphones as it’s taken with smart speakers. That is, let the discount win.

You are one of the few who can afford it and recover that in services and Search. Starting with a premium price and struggling to sell in volume ultimately ends with the same loss when discounts take place. Why not hedge that on the front-end and simply lower the price and at least win the market share with a more competitive price?

After doing this you can follow the same trend of OnePlus. Gradually start adding fit and finish. Increase the integration and specs back to the premium model prices.

Once you have the loyalty of several generations of consumers, you’ve earned the right to ask for a larger amount of cash as you iterate and add value.

Google has a chance to pivot with the Pixel 5, but it will take a much more focused effort by the team at Mountain View to make this a successful launch. The company has to learn from its past mistakes and attack past failures.

A phone can be a flagship without being premium. OnePlus has proven it for years now. Users care about experience, ecosystem, and value. Google has two of those covered but has to reassert the value angle of the Pixel line. OnePlus has left a real opening and the Pixel 5 should capitalize on this shift in the market.

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