May 16, 2014
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New Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus has unveiled its first device, the One. Powered by a Snapdragon 801 processor, the OnePlus One delivers flagship phone capabilities, unlocked, at an affordable price.
Helmed by former OPPO VP Pete Lau, OnePlus’ first outing has been a collaborative effort with established mobile players - enabling OnePlus’ ambition to deliver a competitive hero phone to a large audience.
Lau recently talked to us about the launch of the One and the origins of OnePlus. But first, a few more details about the One:
Loaded with CyanogenMod 11S skin, the One marks the first time that Cyanogen software has been pre-installed in a high-volume device. It offers a lean Android experience that allows the user to fine-tune features to their liking—such as offering the choice of on-screen or capacitive buttons, as well as the ability to select elements from several different themes at once. It also includes security features such as SMS encryption, and Privacy Guard designed to keep your apps at an arm’s length from your data.
Double-tapping the screen turns it on, while drawing a simple pattern opens your preferred app - even when working with wet hands. A built-in 3,100mAh battery delivers all-day power efficiency, while the 13MP Sony Exmor IMX214 rear-facing camera offers 4K video recording. Additionally, the One touts a 5MP front-facing camera that comes with an 80 degree viewing angle, making it ideal for selfies. Uninterrupted connectivity is the result of 4G LTE, 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, while Miracast support and the 5.5-inch IPS 1080p display with on-screen gesture control are as fun as they are useful. The One’s unibody design is just 8.9mm thin, and a hefty 3GB of RAM enables seamless navigation between apps for easy multitasking. What’s more, interchangeable StyleSwap covers switch up the One’s look to customize and protect the phone.
Sold through the OnePlus website only, initial sales of the One will be by invitation, with information on general availability to come. The OnePlus One is unlocked, contract-free and comes in 16GB and 64GB versions, retailing at $299 and $349, respectively. And in the US customers can use the One with AT&T and T-Mobile.
To find out more about the OnePlus One, read our Q&A with Pete Lau, the CEO and founder of OnePlus:
How did OnePlus come about?
In August 2013, a few friends gathered in a coffee shop, chatting about all sorts of things. Eventually, the conversation turned to smartphones and the current state of the market. We quickly agreed on one thing - that we were quite disappointed with how things looked on the market.
There wasn’t a single Android device that we thought was good enough. In fact, none of us were using an Android device on that day. This was the moment when we realized we should do something about it.
OnePlus is essentially a startup, yet you’re offering flagship-quality specs at a dramatically reduced price. On top of that, the product is only available online, rather than through bricks and mortar stores – how did those factors come together to influence the final product?
The rise of Internet has entirely changed the way business is done. Industry analysts think hardware is dead and today’s fastest growing companies are software-based. Think for example, how companies like Instagram or Flickr have replaced Kodak. Technology has forced companies to reinvent themselves or die. We would not start a hardware company if we hadn't reinvented our model.
The world is more transparent, and people have access to more sources of information from the Internet. Hence, consumers have evolved and are much smarter than before. We believe that we can achieve success with OnePlus if we listen to our users and pay attention to every detail.
OnePlus has spent the last five or six months building hype around the OnePlus through competitions, viral marketing, and so on. One of the main differences, however, was having executives actively engage in user forums, creating a really genuine dialogue with early fans of the device. How did you come to that decision?
We believe that in order to really get to know our users, we have to be active in engaging with them. It is only by listening and tuning in to their real needs that we can provide the best smartphone experience. From the beginning, my team and I have spent a lot of time communicating with users in forums and during fan gatherings. Our supporters are a valuable source of insights; they helped us shape the OnePlus One through their contributions on polls and discussions. Hundreds of them attended our launch event in Beijing!
OnePlus One has generated a lot of attention due to the high quality and low price. Of the two, which took priority?
Quality, without any doubt. Our product isn’t designed in mind to satisfy a certain given price, and we don’t consider a smartphone as a list of tech specs and features. We will first create the best product we possibly can, and then think about how to price it. We know that if our product is good enough, users will spread the word.
Why did you feel the need to create the OnePlus One?
We wanted to create a smartphone that we ourselves would use. A phone that’s beautiful, high quality, and actually focused on the day-to-day user experience rather than gimmicks. Because a device like this didn’t exist, we saw an opportunity.
Which aspect of the company or product has made you most competitive and differentiated you in a saturated market?
The most important thing is the product itself. We want to make the best choices for our users, something we call ‘return to user value’. We’re not making any compromises on product quality, and are offering consumers a well thought out design, a great use experience, and top of the line specs.
The reason we can sell this device at a reasonable price is because we sell online, avoiding expensive retail channel costs. We also market our products online, saving us a lot of marketing costs. In addition, we don’t have any margins on our smartphone, and don’t plan to make money for the coming two years.
We believe that today, making users happy and receiving good word-of-mouth is the best way to develop our customer base. A good product can speak for itself more than ever. This is how OnePlus wants to disrupt the mobile industry.
OnePlus has established itself as a company that thinks outside the box, from the marketing to creating a phone case made from cashew nuts to get the texture just right. Are there any other unique quirks that happened in the design, production or engineering process?
Our philosophy ‘Never Settle’ illustrates how we worked to create, revise, and recreate this product. If something wasn’t good enough, we would revise it. In one month, we made 36 revisions to the One. I’m sure a lot of our designers hate me by now.
While these small changes and details won’t always be noticed, we believe that they add up to a product quality that users can feel. As time goes by, we are confident that those distinctive attributes will be at the core of OnePlus experience.
As a young company, you’ve discussed the importance of collaborating. You ended up with Qualcomm Technologies – why did you choose Qualcomm?
To have a great product, you have to work with the best in the field. With our experience in hardware design, it was natural to work together with industry leaders Qualcomm Technologies to design the ultimate smartphone experience. Qualcomm makes the best mobile processors in the world.
During the past few months, we have received tremendous support from Qualcomm Technologies. Among other things, they helped us with a last minute upgrade from Snapdragon 800 to 801. This really helped surprise our fans in a positive way.