It could be a sign of the times. It could be because of the maturing smartphone markets, such as India. It could even be a combination of both. But as things stand, there is a greater need for an ecosystem of products than ever before. Just selling phones will probably not suffice. That is something popular smartphone brand OnePlus understands very well. It was surely on the cards, but the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent struggles have meant consumers now look for even more value when they spend the hard-earned cash.
There have been rumblings for a while now. Last month, OnePlus founder and CEO Pete Lau had hinted that not only does OnePlus intend to revisit its roots with affordable Android phones, but they would also be adding new product lines to their family. If you look at it, they are already on the way in that regard. With the OnePlus line-up of very capable Android phones, the company has the OnePlus TV Q1 line-up as well, wireless chargers, earphones, a variety of accessories and backpacks too.
Other TV brands should be worried about OnePlus TVs
“In 2019, the OnePlus Q TV Series, was the first step towards the OnePlus ecosystem, which saw a great response from the community. In 2020, we look to capitalise on the momentum and extend OnePlus’ promise of a burdenless experience to a new array of personal technology and a wider audience,” says Navnit Nakra, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, OnePlus India, to News18. OnePlus will be adding new smart TVs to their line-up early next month, which will add more screen sizes at significantly more affordable price points, to the TV line-up.
Nakra is very clear about the fact that while India has seen a flurry of new smart TV launches and brands jumping into the TV space, particularly at affordable price points, experience remains a concern. “In the last two years, there has been a sudden boom in the smart TV segment driven by brands smartphones, which has created a whole new market for aspiring Indians. However, they do not offer the level of technology and design offered by the top players and the need for seamless technology integration remains unaddressed,” he says.
OnePlus is expected to go the ecosystem distance
While it is still too early to say which all categories OnePlus will compete in, connected home and smart home gadgets are perhaps to be expected. “We believe that to unlock the full potential of technology there must be a seamless integration of the four connected zones in a person’s daily life – the home, the office, the car and the self (wearables) and the interaction of these zones with each other seamlessly is the ultimate goal,” says Nakra. The company understands the importance of a seamless integration of products and services for consumers.
An ecosystem takes time to build, but that is what a lot of brands have managed to do well, to a large extent. No one has perhaps done it better than Apple. And then we have the prime examples of the likes of Samsung and LG, while more recently Xiaomi has made its ecosystem intentions very clear—the Mi Notebook 14 laptop, the TVs, water purifier, air purifiers and even the upcoming robot vacuum cleaner are just some examples. For them, phones remain the very core of the jigsaw, and everything sits around that. For Xiaomi, the strength of that core comes from truly affordable Android phones.
It will be interesting to see whether OnePlus follows the Apple method of hardware plus services that work around that hardware or goes more into the expansion into multiple gadget and appliance lines, much like Samsung and Xiaomi.
Part of a larger plan
Affordable Android phones should give OnePlus the sort of push they need to build the ecosystem around. This takes us back to the days of the OnePlus One, which around the Rs 20,000 price point, replicated the sort of Android smartphone experience that flagship Android phones upwards of Rs 40,000 in that day and age attempted to deliver. OnePlus phones have become more expensive with every iteration, with the latest OnePlus 8 Pro touching the Rs 60,000 price point. It had to, because phones also became more powerful with every update.
It is expected that OnePlus will launch an affordable Android phone also next month, which should kickstart the positioning shift for the company. Pricing will get significant help with local manufacturing as well, across product lines. “Considering the recent government directives hinting at relaxation for the manufacturing sector, we are hopeful of an uptick in momentum. We have recently resumed manufacturing operations at our Noida facility, in compliance with Government regulations,” says Nakra. “As the situation eases, we are gradually resuming retail business in select locations, as per local government advisories. With commercial functions picking pace, we are confident of overcoming this situation, and regain normalcy in due time,” he adds. India remains a key market for the company. OnePlus says they will increase their presence in the country as well.
The userbase makes all the difference
What OnePlus has going for it is a loyal user base, who appreciate the sort of quality and experience that OnePlus products, particularly phones, bring to the table. In the past few months, a lot of people have cut down on expenses and are families are re-looking at how finances are to be managed. But when you have confidence in a brand, it just helps. “In fact, we have witnessed a very positive response to our latest flagship range during the early access sales that we have had so far,” says Nakra, while referring to the response to the sales of the latest OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro smartphones, which went on sale at different stages in the past few weeks.
The OnePlus Community will have a say on the new product categories. Nakra talks about the positive response the OnePlus TVs have received. He says that the OnePlus user base expects the company to cater to their ever-growing requirements, across a variety of usage scenarios. All while keeping the price and value sensitivities in mind.
One of the community initiatives that OnePlus launched was the Red Cable club, in December last year. “Since its launch, the Red Cable Club now serves a user base of over 1.5 million members from among our 5 million strong community in India. This initiative curated by the community, for the community gives members exclusive benefits and rewards,” he says. One of the recent ‘Summer of OnePlus’ campaigns gave Red Cable Club members access to special activities and first-hand access to sales announcements, exclusive updates, contests and much more.
Caution is important
OnePlus will have to careful of the pace at which it tries to achieve the ecosystem dreams. Not many may remember it, but a Chinese company called LeEco tried the same a few years ago—from Android phones to TVs to virtual reality, cycles to electric vehicles—and went bust in the process. It perhaps wanted to take on Apple, Tesla and Netflix all together, and may have in due course, with a bit of restraint. A few years ago, Xiaomi stopped at the very doorstep of making the mistake of trying too many things too soon, and time as well as patience is paying off big time. It may be enticing to do this fast, but the key could be to do it well.