One of the biggest success stories of the Indian smartphone market is an untold one. It is the story of OnePlus, the start-up that sells only one phone at a time and still manages to be a significant player in the large Indian smartphone market. In fact, according to research firm Counterpoint, the company grew 112% to become the third-fastest growing player in the smartphone segment, after Huawei’s Honor and Xiaomi. It is also the second-largest brand in the premium segment—according to Counterpoint—holding a fourth of the market.
However, despite this growth, the company clearly wants to focus on what is does the best—offer a flagship phone that can take on any brand in terms of specifications and user experience, but at a much lower selling price. During a recent interaction, CEO & founder Pete Lau said the core focus for him and OnePlus was on creating a “burdenless product.” “From OnePlus One to OnePlus 6, we have realised that this freedom, comfort and ease is expected and desired of the product,” he said, adding that this was all about “creating an experience what users want and expect.”
Lau underlined his concept of balance, explaining that instead of looking at specific things that are differentiating in one aspect or category, OnePlus strove for a “product balance that is comfortable” and a device and experience that functions and works the way that the users want. He expressed that this also meant making a lot of sacrifices and not really adding all the features he wanted in the next version of his phone. Like with the new OnePlus 6, he wanted a larger battery and camera sensor, but both would have interfered with the overall design and thus hindered the best experience for the user.
In OnePlus’s success is also a learning for other manufacturers. It is not always necessary to have budget devices and price points to be successful in the Indian market. In fact, OnePlus’s growth over the years has come despite the fact that with every new version it pushes the average selling price up a bit. “Device prices have continued to go up, because prices have been going up for all the components. Our expectation is always to deliver the latest in flagship and latest in technology. So, it is inevitable that our costs will rise,” he said, adding how their unique business model coupled with the focus on e-commerce has helped create a price point that is advantageous for the customers.
But this model has clearly been noticed by other manufactures. With a lot of its newer phones, Huawei’s online sub-brand Honor has also been playing this game of offering a flagship device at more affordable price points. In fact, soon it is expected to push its best features, like the new triple camera setting, to its midrange flagships, too. That will really push up the competition for OnePlus. Already, Nokia, which still has a lot of brand recollect in India, is trying to make an impact in this range with some good offerings.
Also, Lau accepts that offering a new device that rises up to the expectations of the buyers is becoming a challenge. “With each product launch, there is higher expectation, and we really feel it. There are expectations from you, your company and what you deliver. With the OnePlus 5T, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) was the highest in the industry. So with the next device, the goals have to be set even higher. So you can see how it gets even more difficult,” he said. OnePlus will try and focus on one product for the coming years too, just trying to refine what they are doing.
There is another brand that has been making some new inroads into India. Itel came to the country a couple of years ago with feature phones. Over the past year, it has used its network to push some entry-level smartphone models also offline. Now, this little known brand is the third-largest in the feature phone segment and fifth-largest overall. Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, you hear more about this company’s sub-brands.