Is OnePlus trying to do too many things at once?
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Back in 2014, when global smartphone sales were still growing at a pace only rivaled by wearables and smart speakers today, a little company called OnePlus made its market debut with a very ambitious effort to "kill" mainstream flagships by offering top-shelf features at a virtually unbeatable price point.
OnePlus One was far from perfect (or easy to come by), the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X that came out the next year were pretty terrible, but starting with 2016's OnePlus 3, the China-based outfit gradually built up its profile, global presence, and reputation, fairly quickly transforming from a neophyte determined to prove its worth to an underdog brimming with potential and finally a force to be reckoned with on a world scale nowadays.The
According to a report released by Counterpoint Research just last month, OnePlus leads India's premium market segment quite comfortably, beating out both Samsung and Apple. Another report conducted by the same firm earlier this year showed the company was vastly improving its US numbers as a logical consequence of its first-ever major carrier partnership. While those are merely two regions, they also happen to be two of the world's three largest smartphone markets.
Clearly, we're no longer dealing with an industry underdog, but the question is how much more can the company expand and how fast. Consumers will obviously provide the answers, but because the holidays are a time for reflection... and prediction, I'd like to give OnePlus a few pieces of advice for 2020:
The time is still not right for a OnePlus Watch
Yes, global smartwatch shipments are growing like crazy, which may lead you to draw false parallels with the smartphone market of 2014. The main difference is every mobile device vendor's numbers were going up five or six years ago, unlike what's currently happening in the Apple-dominated smartwatch market. OnePlus can't possibly hope to compete with Apple in terms of life-saving wrist functionality or afford to spend as much time as Samsung developing its own software platform and extensive product portfolio from scratch.
Instead, if a OnePlus Watch is indeed coming next year, it will most definitely do so running Wear OS, battling for the industry's scraps with all those great but largely obscure Fossil-made devices. You could argue that the company needs to enter the arena while there's still room for newcomers, but I think the resources would be better used elsewhere, at least for the time being.
Focus on the OnePlus 8 lineup first and foremost
With an ever-expanding smartphone family comes ever-expanding responsibility. Especially when you're working hard behind the scenes to achieve US carrier ubiquity. If you've ever wondered why Verizon doesn't carry a lot of handsets from smaller brands, it's not only because the nation's largest wireless service provider doesn't like said brands. It's also because getting a phone certified for Big Red use (not to mention getting Verizon to actually sell a product in its stores) is a notoriously difficult and time-consuming process for companies not named Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola, or Google.
So, yes, if the OnePlus 8 Pro is indeed headed for Verizon, the company might want to keep the unnecessary distractions to a minimum. Especially if T-Mobile and Sprint (or the "New T-Mobile) are also supposed to release the same 5G-enabled device, which is almost certainly the case. Speaking of the OnePlus 8 lineup, I can't help but wonder if we really need both a "regular" and a Pro variant when the two are so similar according to all that recent gossip. Granted, the OnePlus 8 Pro could be a little too pricey to fly solo to stores, but...
Less is often more
It's not always easy to pinpoint what makes a company successful in a cut-throat industry like the one OnePlus joined back in 2014, but in this particular case, it's pretty obvious one of the big reasons why the small outfit made such huge and rapid progress was its tight and laser-focused product portfolio. But after switching from a single-model to a two-variant yearly release schedule in 2016, OnePlus unveiled no less than four main handsets in 2019.
The number is even larger if you separately consider all the 5G-capable and McLaren-branded subvariants, and yet the company reportedly plans to further extend its lineup in 2020. A OnePlus 8 Lite may not sound like a bad idea given the gradual price hike of the company's high-end phones in the last couple of years, but the previous mid-range effort was such a colossal flop that its sequel (of sorts) caught us completely off guard when it leaked a few weeks ago.
A lot has changed since the OnePlus X, of course, but now brand dilution is threatening to become a real problem. An exceedingly fragmented product roster can make the OnePlus name lose its charm in the eyes of long-time hardcore fans, not to mention other possible unintended consequences of such a move, like mediocre software support. OnePlus is already fumbling its Android 10 updates after doing a stellar job rolling out Pie goodies for eligible devices, and something tells me things will only get worse if the company starts cranking out new phones every few months or so.
Keep your AirPods rival simple
Unlike the OnePlus Watch, I don't think releasing a true wireless version of the OnePlus Bullets earphones in 2020 is a bad idea. The Bullets headphones are the main reason for that, existing for a while now in multiple editions, including with no wire to connect them to your handset. That means the company may not need to spend a lot of time and resources developing an AirPods killer, which obviously has to be affordable to stand a chance in an increasingly crowded and incredibly competitive market.
Ideally, OnePlus would take a page from Samsung's playbook and bundle its sleek new Bullets with absolutely no wires with the 8 Pro at no extra cost, at least temporarily after launching the two products. If it does that, the company can probably expect to make a name for itself in an exploding market projected to get even bigger (much bigger, in fact) that's also far easier to penetrate than the smartwatch segment. And no, OnePlus doesn't need the fanciest design or most groundbreaking features for its first-ever true wireless earbuds to succeed. The simpler, the cheaper, the better.