AH Primetime: One Plus One – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

August 18, 2014 - Written By Phil Bourget

Who are we to decide which company succeeds and which fails, which gets the top spot on most news sites or which gets neglected for a week or two?  Actually, we are almost the entirety of that.  Manufacturers, specifically of smartphones and tablets, do their little press release, showing off the device or two they are there to show us the real existence of, maybe put out a piece on their official blog or press site, but that’s really it.  It’s up to us, people like us at Android Headlines, who pick the things that need to be known widely across the Internet of endless information and constant happenings.  It’s up to you, the average browser and consumer, to buy (or not, we respect that) a device that comes out, and share all about it on various forums and social sites, as well as showing it off to your friends.  And that can be sharing good and bad.  Sadly though, the Internet has been plagued, since winter of last year, by one name and one device.  The infamous OnePlus One.

I’d like to preface all of the following with a few things.  First, yes I have one; I got is around a month ago, so I’ve had my time to play around with it, and get some quality time in on their and other forums.  Second, I am not one to hate or love completely; there are things of note and areas of mistake, and I recognize that.  And finally, I will do my best to show you what OnePlus is and has done, as well as what we as people of the Internet have led it to become.  With that out of the way, let’s begin. OnePlus is a Chinese manufacturer based in Shenzhen, China, a large manufacturing section of the country.  The company is headed by the ex-vice president of another Chinese OEM, Oppo, Peter Lau.  He reportedly left the company last fall, and some of the workers from Oppo followed, and a new company, which they named OnePlus.  OnePlus then partnered with the ever-famous custom Android development group Cyanogen, Inc. and together they imagined a phone.  The Cyanogen phone would have OnePlus hardware and design, built to enhance and house the power and customizability of CyanogenMod 11s, a custom, exclusive version of the current CM 11 software, which is based on Android 4.4.4, Kit Kat.

The phone was rumored, and the partnership was made official, and OnePlus finally showed us some of what they were. Through the end of 2013 and early parts of 2014, the company opened its forums, for talk of the device among many other things, and some of us took to them.  But OnePlus did something very odd: they announced that the phone’s availability would be based on an invitation system, where you had to have received an invite from the site, or another user (who received three to share after receiving their own), and that made many more take to the forums, since you had to be a member (they had to have your email) for them to send you an invitation.  We also dealt with something called ‘Smash the Past’, which was a contest.  Not a ‘do this the best or most up-voted, compared to others’ kind of competition, but a ‘do it unique and special’ kind of contest, that told you to (at its launch) break your current phone.  Bust it to absolute pieces.  But you HAD to do it more uniquely than anyone else that submitted, and the entry had to be a video of the death of the device.  There were 100 victors.  Only 100.  Of what was likely thousands of forum members at the time.  Seem ridiculous?  Yeah, everyone else thought so, and complained about it.  The company then offered the opportunity to donate your previous device in return for the OnePlus device.

Then we had the whole hysteria, caused by OnePlus again, about a contest that let you feel the device if you won, and the guy that won got to see it, in its current stage of development, but nobody else did.  Steve Kondik of Cyanogen, Inc. got to unbox one of the OnePlus phones, but again, nobody got to see the phone but him.  This phone was kept secret, but in the most public way possible.  Why would a device kept completely unseen be so popular?  Because we, the community, wanted it.  We wanted that $300 (USD) starting price, and that $350 64 GB option, and who wouldn’t?  When the device’s design and actual face was shown, we who wanted this thing so bad we went nuts over it, and the forum population grew once more.

But the hype didn’t stop there or then, three months ago, when the device was finally fully showcased by the company.  Oh no, that kicked off the season of people that hadn’t won any contests to get the device already getting their invitations to order the phone.  The invite system made sense in the beginning, since the device was special, and supplies were very much so limited.  But now, in August, the system still exists, and it is killing interest in the device from people who aren’t dead-set on getting the phone.  That’s where this story really gets to the public’s control over OnePlus.  Let me explain. We, we being the people who are reading this now or not, are people who post on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, make a video or take a picture for Instagram or Vine, post pictures and YouTube videos on Google+, are the best marketing and publicity that ANY company has access to.  A professional company can spam television, events and billboards with signage and visuals, but we, the people of the Internet, talk all the time about anything and everything  and if something can get us delighted or enraged, it lives for weeks off of one inciting event.  OnePlus knows and knew that, and has used and misused that power of the community.

After the first few batches of OnePlus Ones, since the device is made by OnePlus and the model is the One, shipped to their eager and patient buyers, people saw issues, physical defects, with the phone.  Some experienced touch-responsiveness problems, while others faced the now-despised yellow-banding at the bottom of the display which was caused by the adhesive not curing in the display before shipping out to customers.  And what does the Internet do when something bad happens like this?  We post and hate.  But what is the old saying, about press coverage?  Bad press is better than no press at all?  Yeah, that one.  OnePlus got the spotlight for a solid month easily, simply by shipping phones with actual problems.  People who received devices after the company claimed these previous problems were resolved experienced missing parts, pre-opening damage, and that still-existent yellow display issue.  Well, what did we do?   We hated and published and raved and boycotted.  Essentially, we gave the new company weeks of spotlight across multiple forums, sites, and news outlets, for free.  The name OnePlus is now known by anyone that even casually peruses Android news, and that’s the power of the community, folks.

Now, I’d like to discuss my personal stance regarding the company and the device, since I’ve done my fair share of reading and writing about both during this ordeal.  I love the OnePlus One; it’s a great device, with top-notch specifications and software, aided in greatness by the value you get for the price you pay.  I got my 64 GB One and went through my normal rooting and ROMming process, finding and loading my favorite custom Android version onto it, and making the device feel like home again.  I luckily didn’t have any issues, any defects of any kind, on my device, and neither did the nifty flip case I got along with the device.  I like the phone a lot but it just had a big screen, which is nice, but sometimes cumbersome.  Regardless, you get huge value for a low price, truly making the ‘flagship killer’ moniker stick and hold for me.

After having and playing with the device, loving the experience and freedom of a device like the One, the bad press started to show up in droves, defects galore, as well as removal of posts and participants on the OnePlus forums, for various things and reasons, many of them outlandish or dumb.  The reasons, not the people, I mean.  Many posts that were removed were not unrelated to the phone or software, they were sometimes threads dedicated to helping people fix the issues and communicate with OnePlus about resolving widespread problems in their devices.  And they were removed or suspended for any number of things and reasons.  And after the forum problems were dying down in my social sphere, the issue of OnePlus’s customer service record (hint, it’s terrible by now) and who actually controlled the company came into view.  Insider data showed that almost no claims of issues or defects were being handled quickly enough to fit within the company’s allotted 2-week window, and OnePlus’s Peter Lau was supposedly just a puppet CEO, since the single investor in the new company is Oppo Electronics, who owns and operates Oppo, Lau’s previous company. So needless to say, the press that OnePlus got made everyone rethink why they wanted the phone from a company whose origins were completely hidden on purpose, whose service and PR turned out to be rubbish (PR will come in a bit, and it’s a stinker, so stick around), but people still wanted that bargain price.  There will always be fanboys, fangirls, and die-hards, but normally they fawn over the legacy, not the future…

Now to focus on the company’s PR, the things that the people within the company do with and say to us, their customers, their fans, their critics.  The most recent, and definitely most worthy of note is the recent ‘Ladies First’ contest.  Think of a beauty pageant, one held online.  Where only the judges, the folks at OnePlus, could see every entrant, then showed us their favorite finalists.  That’s what it was, with a twist.  The submission was a photo, and it had to include your body and the OnePlus logo, to ‘show your support’ or something like that to qualify.  And initially, there was no exclusion for nudity in these entries.  And even once there was one, who’s to say that regardless of the results, the company wouldn’t just leave out the unattractive or ‘non-model status’ women who entered, and pick their favorite, sexiest, or most erotic naked shots, because everyone knew that people would still submit a naked or two.  THAT sent everyone off the deep end, and rightfully so.

Let’s recall the outcome of the contest.  The contest was announced and put up in a thread on the forums by one of the staff at OnePlus.  People got the chance to read it, and to reason out what it was, and how bad or good it was.  Within eight hours, the contest was completely eradicated, gone, removed, and within the ninth hour, an apology was posted up where the contest once stood, addressing the company’s blatant mistake.  Less than half a day, and the company got massive press, and killed a contest.  But that’ s not the worst part.  OnePlus is still standing, it still is shipping out phones in various stages of possible defect and disrepair, and they still have over 180,000 forum members, some who criticize and many who support the company.

The company that has gotten more bad press than any other in the past year still stands, popular as ever, still doing business.  How?  Because we keep it there.  If we let the issues go, but told people to not buy it, they might still want the phone.  OnePlus has succeeded in making one of the greatest and most talked about smartphones in recent memory, but has failed as a company whose job is to be professional and market things themselves, on their time and budget.  We, the people of the Internet, have made known the name, success, and wrong-doings of the company called OnePlus, and their device called the One.  We made it known that they had a killer phone, while the company was not living up to the phone’s status.  A company fails because either the company is bad and mismanaged, or the sales of their device(s) aren’t enough to sustain it.  OnePlus doesn’t sell enough devices to make a profit, and we all know how mismanaged the company is.  So why hasn’t it failed yet?  Because I’m writing this, and you’re reading it, and might have a conversation over lunch, dinner, or breakfast about it, you might share it on Google+ or Twitter and a conversation may begin there.  People will have it in their minds and on their breath, like alcohol during prohibition.