Oneplus and the question of Brand Perception

The year was 2014. Oneplus the chinese start up launched its ‘flagship killer’ Oneplus One in India at Rs 21,999. term ‘flagship killer’ itself was coined by Oneplus in order to refer to their devices that gave the end consumer a smartphone with flagship internals at relatively cheap (in fact very cheap for what you get) prices. Understandably, the company had to make certain sacrifices in other key areas of a smartphone such as display,build quality and cameras. However, in 2014 people cared more about the processor in a smartphone than anything else (even display quality). The phone ran on Cyanogenmod, a custom version of android made by Cyanogen. As far as raw performance was concerned, Oneplus One handily beat heavyhitters such as Galaxy S5 and tied with the legendary htc One M8. Predictably, the phone was a huge success despite the infamous invite system of Oneplus.

Years rolled by. Next year, Oneplus severed its ties with Cyanogenmod and launched its own android skin named Oxygen Os. It turned out to be as feature rich and equally fast as Cyanogenmod. Oneplus Two launched in 2015, with Oxygen Os. Despite the complaints related to the ill fated Snapdragon 810, the phone proved to be a success. Oneplus Three came out in 2016 with 6GB RAM (first in the android smartphone industry) and a metallic body. Oneplus also dropped the invite system in 2016. By now, a pattern started emerging that caused the android enthusiasts to be worried. Oneplus kept hiking the price of its flagships each year. Oneplus also launched Oneplus 3T in late 2016, marking the birth of the ‘T’ variant of their flagships. Oneplus 3T offered the slightly more powerful Snapdragon 821 compared to Snapdragon 820 offered by Oneplus 3.

The year was 2017 (8 February to be precise), the youtube channel TechAltar uploaded a video titled “Why Enthusiast Brands will Betray You” as a part of their ‘The Story Behind ‘ series. In this video, Marton from TechAltar talked about why enthusiast brands like Oppo, Oneplus, Nextbit, Pebble etc wont be able to sustain the relatively cheap prices of their products for a long time. These brands will either have to increase the prices of their products and target a wider audience or risk getting consumed by a bigger corporation.

In 2019, Oneplus, launched the first ‘Pro’ variant of their smartphones titled Oneplus7Pro. This device boasted of features such as an amoled display that was rated A+ by displaymate, a pop up front camera, a true full screen display with curved edges and triple cameras in the back (normal, tele and ultra wide). This phone also released in the US at a starting price of 669$. The phone was also given a lavish advertisement treatment by Oneplus through an ad campaign that featured none other than Robert Downey Jr. The writing in the wall was clear by now, Oneplus is changing from being a maker of ‘flagship killers’ to being a maker of actual flagships. The phone went on to win the Smartphone of the Year award by MKBHD.

The year 2020, marked the completion of the transformation. The flagship Oneplus8Pro boasted official IP68 rating and wireless charging. features missing from previous Oneplus devices. However despite the fact that Oneplus8Pro offered all the features of a genuine flagship, many people felt betrayed. Youtube comment sections of Oneplus8pro videos were filled with comments that portrayed Oneplus as a company that betrayed its roots. Many people recognised the prophetic message, Marton from TechAltar said in 2017 itself. However many people forgot one important detail. Along with Oneplus, companies such as Samsung, Apple etc were also increasing the prices of their flagships year after year. The starting price of Oneplus8Pro in US is 749$ but the starting price of the standard Galaxy S20 is 999$. Still a considerable difference. However Samsung or Apple for that matter never advertised their devices as ‘Flagship Killers”. Public always saw these corporates as makers of actual flagships.The famous tech reviewer MrMobile alias Michael Fischer titled his Oneplus8Pro review as “Becoming the Villain”. However not all tech reviewers sang the same tune. Dave Lee, another famous tech reviewer titled his Oneplus8Pro review as “The Better S20”.

This year, Oneplus also confirmed that they will launch a mid-range phone with an upper mid-range,gaming focussed processor (most probably Snapdragon 765). It has now come full circle, the audacious start up now matured into a fully fledged smartphone manufacturer.

Image Courtesy: Silvie Lindemann from Pexels

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