Did OnePlus kill the One’s popularity with its launch model?

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The affordable, high-end smartphone is no longer a pipe dream. In fact, it hasn’t been for a while.

Some may not consider the Moto X a high-end phone, especially not by today’s standards, but it’s certainly a capable smartphone that performs exceptionally and doesn’t break the bank – at least not anymore.

The Moto X didn’t exactly start out budget-friendly. It began as a full-priced, high-end smartphone, and its pricing quickly worked its way down as Motorola ran various promotions. Now, albeit nearly one-year-old, the base Moto X can be had for just $350 without a contract, and it’s a fantastic bargain.

At its launch, the LG-made Nexus 4 was a high-end handset which originally sold for $299 sans contract for the 8GB model back in November 2012. Although the storage options were nothing particularly special and it lacked official LTE support, it came with specifications comparable to other popular flagships – especially LG’s Optimus G – earlier in the year and it sold for roughly half the price.

Still, in the eyes of many, the Nexus 4 came with simply too many compromises.

Enter the Nexus 5.

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The second time around, LG’s Nexus handset shipped with a smaller set of compromises. The Nexus 5 came with one feature most flagship smartphones are missing in their cameras: optical image stabilization. And it also shipped with LTE support, a large, 1080p display, better storage options, a Snapdragon 800 SoC, and Qi wireless charging to boot.

The Nexus 5 was as close to a no-compromise, high-end, budget smartphone ever built. Then along came a Chinese manufacturer who wanted to undercut everyone, to stick it to wireless providers and even other OEMs who create expensive flagships that still come with compromises.

OnePlusOnePlus, a startup smartphone manufacturer started by former VP of OPPO Pete Lau, has since caused a lot of controversy and confusion in the market. It announced a rule-bending, “2014 flagship killer” smartphone that took everyone by surprise.

The OnePlus One seemingly had it all – a Snapdragon 801 SoC, 3GB RAM, 16 or 64GB fixed storage, a 13-megapixel camera, a 3,100mAh battery, and a 5.5-inch 1080p display. Best of all, its price undercuts even the Nexus 5; sans contract, the 16GB model starts at just $299, and you can quadruple the storage for $50 more. And although it isn’t privy to rapid updates directly from Google, it has what many enthusiasts consider the next best thing: official support from Cyanogen. The OnePlus One ships with CyanogenMod preinstalled and gets updates straight from Cyanogen.

Almost overnight, OnePlus exploded and caught the attention of millions. It manufactured hype for its very first smartphone out of thin air, something long-established companies have trouble doing to this day. And with its first marketing campaign, it received over 140,000 entries in its competition to win a OnePlus One for just $1. Of course, there was a catch. Only 100 entrants were chosen, and those who were had to smash their current phone to be eligible for the $298 discount.

oneplus-one-3But unlike the smash hit the OnePlus One was intended to be and despite the hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) who were salivating over this against the grain “flagship killer”, the hype has slowly fizzled. But … why?

The obvious answer is the launch model. OnePlus burst onto the scene making huge promises that would be difficult for even established companies to keep. It promised to launch a “flagship killer” for roughly half the price of other flagships.

We knew it sounded fishy and assumed there would be some stipulations. There were. Word quickly got around that this OnePlus One would only be available via invitation. Really? An invitation to buy a phone? The story OnePlus sold (and many bought) was that it would be an exclusive. Who wouldn’t want to be part of an elite group of users who owned a killer smartphone that cost them just $300 with no contract?

I admit, it was a nice spin on the forthcoming growing pains the startup would soon face. Clever.

However, I’m not sure OnePlus was ready for the demand it was met with. OnePlus came forth just a few weeks ago in its user forums to shed some light on the production hurdles it has been facing. Production has hit a snag with strict quality control and lower production yields. Pair that with exceptional demand and it’s clear why this invitation model was necessary and also why it hasn’t worked out like the company had planned.

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But the more you dig, the more unusual the situation gets. For example, conspiracy theories that state OnePlus is nothing more than a flash marketing tactic from OPPO itself abound. News broke that OPPO Electronic is the primary investor in OnePlus. The company responded to the speculation by stating:

“We understand the confusion as many people are just finding out about OnePlus. But as we’ve said from the beginning, OnePlus is a separately run company that does share common investors with OPPO.

One of those investors is OPPO Electronic. OPPO Electronic is an investment company and is not the same as OPPO Mobile. OnePlus is also in talks with other investors.”

That still doesn’t answer why the OnePlus One looks strikingly similar to the OPPO Find 7a or why, back in June, Oppomart started selling the OnePlus One running Oppo’s ColorOS for $50 more. Even more, why does Oppomart have One units to sell if OnePlus is still facing production issues? And why has the price of the base 16GB model gone up to $399 in their online store?

OnePlus One announced

More so than the unusual marketing and launch model, OnePlus is shooting itself in the foot by not being fully transparent with its existing and future customers. The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of impatient people dying to buy a OnePlus One who simply can’t. Well, they can by paying a retailer $100 more than the retail value, but that sort of defeats the purpose of the OnePlus being priced so aggressively, no? Oh, and don’t forget the Ones sold on Oppomart don’t come with a warranty from OnePlus, but rather through the retailer.  You’d be better off buying a Nexus 5 before you spend $400 on the OnePlus One.

I could sit here and manufacture at least a half dozen conspiracy theories about what is actually happening at OnePlus, but the fact of the matter is, no one knows what’s going on. And that alone is what is killing the dream that was the OnePlus One.

It’s not the launch model, the shortage of supply, or even OnePlus’ mysterious affiliation with Oppo. No one cares about any of those things, individually. But the combination of those three things with several delays and everything else that is happening – like the controversy around smashing your existing phone, in exchange for a $1 One, as opposed to donating it to a better cause – is making the OnePlus One quickly lose its luster.

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+