For a startup, specifications matter
If you listened to the Pocketnow weekly last week, you heard some talk about the OnePlus One. This “Flagship killer” which isn’t (more or that later) is a superphone being brought to the invited masses by a new startup called OnePlus. This is a spec heavy masterpiece of mobile technology with a big screen, power processor, great ram, plus it brings a brand name of a sort – CyanogenMod – to the table for one extremely low price.
One of the most common criticisms I hear about this phone was echoed on the Weekly by the hosts. That being “they’re trying to sell specs.” The argument follows that specs don’t really matter nowadays since everything has everything. What companies need to sell is the experience, not the numbers. This is not an incorrect assessment, but it’s missing a few key points.
First and foremost, specs do matter. Despite arguments to the contrary by companies such as Motorola, specifications and “what’s under the hood” matters quite a bit. Maybe they don’t matter so much in the performance arena, but they do matter in the minds of people. Hey, you Moto X owners in the front row that all started talking at once, yes I know what you’re talking about. The Moto X is a great experience by all reports. I’m not dissing your phone. I’ll talk more on this point later too. But to most people, specs matter a lot. That’s why mobile tech websites have specification comparison sheets. If specs didn’t matter, those sheets would not exist.
The other argument to the “selling specs” argument is that OnePlus is not just selling specs. They’re selling their price point as well which at $299 is insanely good. At $349 for a 64 GB model, it’s certifiably good. To the point that is prompted this tweet.
They still haven’t replied, and that makes me sad.
But those specifications for that price is a fantastic deal. Add to it the popularity – well among the custom ROM crowd anyway – of CyanogenMod and you’ve got an impressive looking product on paper. At the end of the day, the “on paper” matters a lot when one is clamoring for a phone.
On a side note, I’d like to say how happy I personally am in the flood of great priced off-contract options there are out there. The Nexus line (until 2015 that is), the Motos, the Lumias are all making it possible to make carrier contracts a thing of the past and that is a good thing in the eyes of the consumer.
The other part of this argument is that OnePlus is a startup. They have to sell specifications because that’s all it has to sell at the moment. Most startups have little reputation to build upon (with some notable exceptions) when releasing a product, so they often have to make splashes where they can – either with specification, gimmicky announcements or unusual distribution channels. They need to make noise, and 64 GB for $349 makes a lot of noise indeed.
Which is not to say that OnePlus’s marketing department is on target with everything. When is a killer not a killer? OnePlus has a long way to go if it plans to unseat Sony or HTC, let alone Samsung. So I’m pretty sure those flagships are sleeping snug in their beds with nary a care in the world. The OnePlus is going to appeal to specheads and geeks long before it appeals to an average consumer. But if the specheads and geeks can become enamored enough to move big numbers, fast, then OnePlus will have something to brag about. Until then, it’s better off never settling rather than planning naval homicide.
The overall user experience and the return rates will ultimately decide whether this phone is a premium experience or not. The Moto X has achieved almost a cult status among the mobile technology press if nothing else based on its user experience, which sub-spectaular specifications. This demonstrates that it isn’t all about the specs, and I’m not here to argue that it is. I would be wrong. But the Moto X got sales initially because of the Moto part of its name and the brand that came with it. Motorola was (and still is I guess) no stranger to the smartphone industry and let’s not forget who daddy was in those days. Google could afford to take a flyer on a sub spec’ed phone that performed well. OnePlus can’t.
OnePlus in my humble opinion is doing a lot of things right in many ways. The specs on paper, the marketing, the demand created by the invitation system, heck even the videos of mobile mass destruction will generate buzz and that it what most startups need and what many can’t figure out. Buzz will make or break a company and right now a lot of the buzz is in OnePlus’s favor. Here’s hoping they don’t drop the ball.