Founded in December 2013 by Pete Lau and Carl Pei, OnePlus has transformed itself almost overnight into a technological unicorn. The breath of genius materialized with the first smartphone of the Chinese company, the One.
In 2020, however, the company has undergone more changes than in its entire history to date. Once committed exclusively to high-end smartphones, in October we had three mid-range smartphones with little charisma.
The small OnePlus was successful where the giants fell
Until 2019 the company’s focus was clear. Deliver users with an experience premium with incredible cost-benefit products. Naturally, as the company grew, profit margins also followed this trend.
OnePlus has, moreover, achieved what Xiaomi dreams of and which would eventually reveal the Pandora’s box from Huawei and ZTE. OnePlus, on the other hand, has successfully entered the world’s third largest smartphone market, the United States of America.
He did it with impetus, ambition and a hint of ingenuity that we so often see in startups from Silicon Valley. It was with the OnePlus 7 generation, then deployed in the model standard and in the model premium, the Pro, but it sure did!
The Shenzen-based company grew and was welcomed in the U.S. during the Trump administration. Let us take a moment to reflect on these words, recalling the trade war between China and the American sphere of influence.
Consumers were looking for (and looking for) cheaper smartphones, which do not give up key elements or compromise neither performance nor design. The consensual answer? OnePlus equipment, at least until the beginning of 2020.
OnePlus is the most westernized of the (big) Chinese brands, from the company’s marketing to its own interface.
Oxygen OS beats Google at its own game
Highly customizable and proudly democratic, the Android operating system acquires several flavors and interpretations that make it unsuitable for all consumers. Depending on skins, Android can be complicated for some and confusing, or even unsafe for others, especially for those less versed in technology.
Thus, the Android market presents us with two paths, that of personalization and that of crudeness. The first finds perfect representation on Samsung’s One UI, or Huawei’s EMUI and Xiaomi’s MIUI, skins with a great deal of customization. The second, in the pure implementation made by Google in its Pixel, or by OnePlus with its interface, Oxygen OS.
Without detracting from the merits of more personalized interfaces, the preference for simplicity has always guided my choices. At Oxygen OS I found light and useful additions to the “pure” Android that I consider missing from the Pixel line smartphones.
Not that I could buy Pixel smartphones in UK, even if I wanted to, Google doesn’t give us that option. Therefore, the Android market needs OnePlus, especially the UK’s market.
There is Nord, but the north has been lost
Despite the inconsistencies that can be pointed out, OnePlus under the direction of Carl Pei and Pete Lau has always shown to have a clear direction. Performance and speed, cost-effectiveness and the appeal of magnanimous flagships.
I put my finger on the wound with the OnePlus 2, or the peculiar experience of the OnePlus X, the first one affected by some flaws, the second a pearl, or a vulgarity depending on the sources. The brand tried several formulas in its infancy, but was quick to adapt, listen to users and choose a well-defined path, following it promptly.
Two years after the public repudiation of the brand to mid-range smartphones, behold, in 2020 the saying goes unfortunate. The Nord in October last would be followed by two out of date smartphones to which only Black Friday promotions are of any interest.
The launch of OnePlus Nord was a harbinger of an earthquake by the company, with the N10 and N100 being its replicas.
Carl Pei left OnePlus, Pete Lau “returned” to OPPO
In October 2020 the co-founder and face of the brand made his departure. Carl Pei, seven years after helping to create the brand, is now looking for new challenges. Before that, in September 2020, Pete Lau would assume an important management position within the parent company, OPPO. Currently, Pete Lau is tasked with bringing OnePlus closer to OPPO and also to Realme.
OnePlus can be seen as a satellite company from OPPO, until then quite independently. However, these companies were never exactly transparent about their family ties and operational relationships.
Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind the fact that Vivo, Realme, OPPO, therefore also OnePlus, belong to the multinational BBK Eletronics. It is a dense web of relationships, but the management of the aforementioned business conglomerate has the last word.
BBK will unveil Huawei’s market share bluntly
Adding the sales volume of the companies that belong to BBK, they equal or exceed the sales registered by Huawei, a company that even surpassed Samsung and led the market during the last summer.
Now, with Huawei’s failure to make itself felt in Europe, it will be up to the most westernized Chinese brand to fill this “power vacuum”. In other words, OnePlus will be instrumental, alongside OPPO, which already invests seriously in UK.
In 2020 OnePlus has already launched as many cheap and mid-range smartphones as flagships or gamma tops. The signs are clear and although there is nothing inherently wrong or problematic with the N10 and N100, there is a clear shift in priorities.
We move from betting on speed to the primacy of quantity
What is certain is that the company placed few models a year on the market, despite the six-month renewal cycle. Even when dividing with the base version, Pro version and, later, the “T” version, there were still (only) three smartphones per year.
Now we add three more, with the cheapest being the N100, essentially a copy of the OPPO A53, both with the same Snapdragon 460 processor, 5,000 mAh battery and 90 Hz screens, saved by Oxygen OS.
What will be left of the OnePlus essence in 2021?
And until now all OnePlus devices left the consumer satisfied with performance and attributes, now the Nord justify their existence by being cheap. OnePlus will become another Android manufacturer among so many.
With the departure of Carl Pei, one of the iconic leaders, OnePlus is at risk of an identity crisis and, perhaps in the worst case scenario, a complete assimilation by OPPO. Thus, we can only hope that quality remains one of the company vectors.
In 2020 we saw a strong paradigm shift. In 2021, however, we will begin to see the strategic impact of the new orientation and to assess the extent of the influence exerted by OPPO.
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