OnePlus is gearing up for its big launch of the year even as there are strong hints that the company will finally move out of its one-phone-at-a-time cycle and announce multiple devices.
OnePlus is gearing up for its big launch of the year even as there are strong hints that the company will finally move out of its one-phone-at-a-time cycle and announce multiple devices. Nandagopal Rajan caught up with OnePlus founder and CEO Pete Lau in March to discuss the road ahead for his company, his product vision, challenges and opportunities. Edited excerpts:
What is your plan for this year?
We haven’t set a specific goal. But the task is to look at the premium segment and how we can broaden the kind of impact that has been created. We want to enable in the minds of the community that when they think of the best premium offering, they think of OnePlus.
Apple and Samsung have three premium flagships across different price points now. Is that a thought process that interests you?
As we have grown both in the premium segment and in terms of wider awareness in India particularly, we have also looked at what makes sense and created a flagship series. With the new devices, like with the OnePlus 6T, we will have a continuation, a product that is able to integrate a full level of the latest in technology or technology that hasn’t even been utilised in the industry and can really push the barriers of experimentation in what a premium flagship can be.
At MWC you also showed a 5G phone. Is 5G an opportunity, a compulsion or both?
It’s an opportunity because our community of users is those who are technology aware and would want to take up the newest technology first. On the 5G front, we started our planning and deployment early, starting in 2016 with pre-R&D and are certainly among the first and leading companies in the 5G space. 2019 and 2020 is a transition time from 4G to 5G.
What will be the big user benefit from moving to 5G?
5G is a long-term approach and trajectory. If we look at it over the next 10 years and the impact, it has to be separated into three phases. The first three years is when you will see a speed increase and increase in cloud functionality and capability. What that speed will ultimately enable is network ability to work with the cloud, ensuring that having storage on the cloud is the same as having the experience of storage on the device in the hard disk. That will not be only in smartphones but across products and will enable across connected products and lead to a whole host of possibilities. Phase two, 2021 to 2025, is about significance of cloud capability plus AI and 5G in combination and what they can create as a result. And the third phase, 2025 to 2030, is the kind of full unleashing of the Internet of Things. So each person will have their account. And then devices can all connect into that account through the cloud.
Is 5G going to interrupt the concept of a global phone as you will have completely different network capabilities across different markets?
The goal is to have a 5G compatible product across countries and networks. In the next couple of years it will require customisation of products for the different bands and carriers, but our goal is to work towards that wider
OnePlus has set the benchmark of a premium device that is also affordable. Is that becoming a difficult challenge with customer expectations going up?
Our business model has been Internet centric. With that as a prerequisite, an expectation is we make the best possible product and the best product experience possible. But because we have this unique business model, and are able to go direct to consumers, it allows us to have cost savings that can be passed on to the end user.
As user demand for functionality increases it causes the cost of a device to increase. But that’s equal across the industry. So our business model advantage remains proportional.
You have an enviable position in the premium segment in India now. What have you done right?
What we did most correct is take an approach to a world-class standard and product and also deliver that to India and not look at the Indian market and say okay, we should make a lower-end, cheaper product for this market specifically. So our persistence in delivering world-class standard globally, India included, worked. Then building a local team with localisation, local knowledge and independent ability to be empowered to make decisions has also worked.
Is this a difficult crown to wear?
It is actually about going back to the core of what we do and that is ‘product’. To be number one in the premium segment is a result of many things. I am confident that if we continue to do product well, we will continue to create a best-in-class experience. If we look at last year for example, OnePlus’ growth and impact on the premium market has actually created growth in the premium market as a whole. Without OnePlus, its actual size would have shrunk.