OnePlus was founded by Pete Lau and Carl Pei in Shenzhen, China, in December 2013. Now, the company has revealed that its next phone is almost here and will be revealed at a global launch event in London next month on 16 May.
Carl Pei, co-founder and Head of Global at OnePlus talked about the company’s philosophy, how the phones are designed and why the headphone jack is going to stay. Probably.
The company’s debut handset was the numerically sensible OnePlus One which was highly-specced but without the price to match. Since then came OnePlus 2, then 3, 3T and 5. So, no surprise that the next chapter focuses on the OnePlus 6. Mr Pei explained how OnePlus began.
“We started with a simple idea,” Mr Pei explained. “To build a smartphone people really wanted to use and we asked people to give us suggestions. At the time, no one thought we could succeed in such a competitive industry but by focusing on users, thanks to our community, we proved them wrong. At the time, we only made 1,000 phones for our first Global order of the OnePlus One, but we ended up selling over one million. Four years later, we are still around and with 2017 being our most successful year ever with annual revenue of $1.4bn (£1bn) and users in 183 countries.”
Not bad for a company only four years old. This sense of the importance of the OnePlus community is something that comes up over and again with Mr Pei. One of the striking features from the beginning was how the high-end specs were matched with a distinctive, attractive but not over-dominating industrial design.
“Since the start, we’ve had a strong stance that a smartphone should be a part of your life, but not the focus of it. We deliberate carefully over every decision which affects your experience, from how the phone feels and sits in your hand, through to how the software works. For us it’s about balance – between style and power, comfort and flexibility, fast and smooth. As an example, we have always implemented the OnePlus Horizon line, a hallmark of OnePlus design, for our flagship devices.”
This is a continuous hard edge around the entire phone which gives a visually sleek appearance. Mr Pei said: “[It] juxtaposes the smooth back of the device and feels great in the hand.”
OnePlus sells its phones around the world, but Europe can be a tough market to crack. “Europe is always a challenge because of how many different markets there are and the specific user demands for each country. When you look at our history here, we’ve always had a strong presence across Europe and we’re continuing to see sustainable growth, while the market is reaching a plateau.” But Mr Pei said there are specific aims for the company in Europe: “First, being completely aware of what product people want in Europe and ensuring the community are being heard. We will also continue to develop our service, as it’s something we know is key to long-term growth and sales are a result of doing things the right way. And third, we believe in hiring local talent for our global operations and helping them develop their skills.”
Mr Pei won’t give too much away about the upcoming handset, though the company has revealed the name already and hinted that it is going to be focused on being fast – and today it confirmed that the London event is called The Speed You Need.
Sometimes though, companies fall into the trap of building phones that are the most powerful, the most highly-specced, for the sake of it, without it necessarily meaning it will be the best.
“We’re acutely aware it’s all about balance. We constantly look at the technology available and how it can address real needs, there’s no point in having cutting-edge technology for the sake of it. We consider how technology affects the user experience, whether it’s the RAM or camera and then we make a decision.”
OxygenOS is a customised version of Android which runs on OnePlus phones. “OxygenOS is lightweight and unobtrusive and means our phone provides an unconstrained experience without the burden of being slowed down. We’ve heard the complaints of real consumers and fine tune our hardware and software. We believe that a phone should be as fast on day one as day 100.”
Beyond that, how innovative will the camera be for the OnePlus 6? “The camera on a smartphone is definitely important to a lot of people and with OnePlus 6, we’re excited to show the world our best camera to date. Everyone has different demands so we’re careful not to overburden the user with features they won’t need, while ensuring they can push their photography to the next level. We’ve added some new elements which give our community greater flexibility to capture incredible moments.”
Okay then, how about that other touchpoint, the headphone jack to OnePlus, which has disappeared from flagship handsets across the board this year? The latest phones from Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Sony and Nokia have all removed the jack, making Samsung’s retention of it a rare thing.
Mr Pei insisted, “the more important question we ask is ‘how important is the headphone jack to our users?’ The answer we’ve had is overwhelming. Every year I do a Twitter poll and the number of people taking part increases each time, this year there were over 19k votes and 88 per cent said they like physical headphone jacks”.
So that’s a pretty clear indication that OnePlus won’t be dropping the traditional connector yet.
Finally, Mr Pei revealed what his best and worst moments at OnePlus have been. Executives are notorious for not answering the “worst” bit of that question, but Mr Pei is candid.
“Well, we started off with a bang and then got ahead of ourselves. In 2015, we thought we knew everything and stopped listening to consumers. The OnePlus 2 was a good device, but with the help of the community, it would have been better. Then, in 2016, we realised our mistake and were lucky to have such a strong bond with our community that they helped us develop the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T – both were received very well and brought us back on track to where we started.”
And the best moment?
“That came with the persistence and belief we had, through the accumulation of those three years, that providing one product and listening to the community, would pay off.”
The Speed You Need global launch in London on 16 May begins at 5pm and is a ticketed event, with over 1,000 tickets on sale now and it will be the biggest OnePlus Community event yet. Ticket prices start at £16 for an Early Bird ticket. Attendees get to try the OnePlus 6 before anyone else and receive a “swag bag”. As a guide to what’s in the bag, for the last event where the OnePlus 5T was revealed, attendees received a OnePlus backpack, event t-shirt, stickers and a $40 coupon for the OnePlus 5T, for an entry fee of $40. This time, the organisers promise, “everything about the event in London is going to be even bigger and better, including what’s available in the swag bag”.