At CES in Las Vegas, our own Nick Sutrich was able to have a sit down interview with Carl Pei from OnePlus. Nick asked all types of questions including all the drama with Cyanogen, their Alpha Lollipop ROM, the OnePlus Two and More!
Nick: What's going on with the Cyanogen Partnership?
Carl: Without the help of Cyanogen, I don't think we'd be where we are today. As a new brand you suddenly showing up on the market no one's heard of you and launching a product in such a short period of time. Announced the company in December, launched the OnePlus one in April. Without the help of Cyanogen there'd be no software or brand recognition. We think it was the best choice, and a great product. We currently have ongoing legal issues that prevent us from further commenting on this issue.
Nick: Would that rule out any Future partnerships with Cyanogen?
Carl: Up until now it's been very positive overall.
Nick: What do you feel was the biggest part of the success of the phone and the company in the past year?
Carl: We see ourselves as very product focused, and that's great. It's one thing developing a product you enjoy, it's another thing developing a product the market enjoys. So to get this one right, we were very lucky. The success wasn't just the product itself, but the invite system and friend-to-friend. If you don't like a product, you're not going to recommend it to a friend. And the amount of luck we had getting it right the first time. We're actually quite nervous of our future product, because the product we make and like, we're not sure the market will like.
Nick: Do you think there were any particular mistakes that you'd want to go back and change over the past year?
Carl: The traction has been very positive overall. If you look at our internal figures, it's been like a hockey stick in terms of growth. During different stages of the company we were worrying about different things. What happens if no one cares about us, or pays attention to us. Once we had that figured out, we launched our phone and a lot of people wanted to buy it. Next worry was, oh we didn't order enough inventory and lead time was 3 months. What do we do? You gotta ramp up inventory, and that takes 3-6 months. And during that time people were really complaining about the fact it was so scarce. After you sell a few units you run into another problem, support. We ramped up support quite a bit. And we've brought the backlog down. Now we realize we have another problem, our company is growing so fast and management has to figure out how to keep everyone happy and keep everyone going in the same direction. So it's one problem after another, which is terrible when you're starting something new. To have a big impact on the world, you would say, like, how are we changing ourselves, what did we do wrong? I don't think we did anything wrong because during different periods of time we did different things. Going forward the OnePlus we show to the world will be much more professional, and less controversial.
Nick: People feel that marketing has been controversial how do you feel about it? And what happened with the Ladies First thing?
Carl: With the Ladies First marketing, the idea was good. The phone was still pretty new and we wanted to give women a chance to buy one. However, the execution was very insensitive in the least. It became a beauty contest instead of a way to include people. So there's always a gap between execution and perception. If we do it again, we'll do it much differently. But for now, we are going to avoid the gender thing altogether. It's been very controversial. And the person that did this was running this, basically everyone was on a flight when this happened. The person that did this was new to the company, and when we landed we were like "oh S&%* we gotta fix this".
Nick: As far as the invite system goes, in December we were mostly able to buy the phone without an invite. How did you do the inventory for that?
Carl: Two things, we did pre-orders after we sold everything we had it came as pre-order. If you ordered it and we had it in stock we shipped it immediately. But more than that it became a pre-order. And with the anniversary sale we had a huge inventory, so we didn't run out. We are also always testing new things to see what works and doesn't work.
Nick: Would you consider stockpiling a whole bunch instead of doing Invites?
Carl: If we do it more than a day the stockpile would run out, and it'll be really frustrating experience again for those waiting. We are definitely going to try and do the open sales more often. I don't think we can keep it open for ever.
Nick: I guess the concern is inventory?
Carl: Inventory is growing we're a lot better than we were in the beginning. And it'll be a lot easier to buy the phone.
Nick: In the future, are you thinking you'll always stick with the invite system, or will you get rid of it?
Carl: I think eventually as products get older and older we will eventually open sales. But whether or not were going to keep selling the device during a product cycle. Since the OnePlus One is almost at the end of it's product cycle, and the OnePlus Two is coming out and we'll put the OnePlus One on open sale until they are gone.
Nick: After the OnePlus One product cycle is over, would you keep a stock pile of OnePlus One's?
Nick: Some of the other OEMs that are kinda lumped with you (Xiaomi, Meizu) that sell a lot of phones for real cheap. They sell a 50,000 devices in 5 seconds. Do you plan to keep the invite system to keep costs down?
Carl: the main purpose was to keep risks down since inventory cost a lot of money. When you have a slim margin, you can't afford to have a lot of inventory. It was to keep risks down. It was mainly for risks management. Compared to other companies, we're still really weak, and small. Our financial strengths isnt as strong as other companies. We still have to be a bit conservative in the beginning.
Nick: In the future, what would you do to compete with the other manufacturers out there?
Carl: Internally, we don't believe looking at competition that much. Looking at what they are doing and wondering how to react. We believe that will lead to mediocrity. Also our company is really small, so if we keep making mistakes, it'll help us much more than competition would. Our idea was to create a global company from day one. That's how I feel we are different.
Nick: You recently released an Alpha ROM for the OnePlus One, what's your plan for it? Will you bring features from Cyanogen?
Carl: The stock ROM is primarily a result of India. And our need to do business in India. Back in April, about 20-30% of our support tickets were from India. Asked when is your launch in India, etc., the excitement there has been phenomenal. When we go to India, they are so excited about it. They were surrounding us during our event in India asking questions. We felt like rockstars. The main reason we are doing our own build is so we can keep selling in India.
The current version we have now is stock and very buggy. We promised in December to release something, this isn't a daily driver. This was to show people we are on our way. As far as features, we will have feedback with our community on what they want. We don't want to create an Android based OS just for geeks. We need to make it easy and simple to use for everyone. We aren't going to be the same as Cyanogen feature for feature. We're going to have our own ideas and focus on making it easy to use.
Nick: One of the things that sold me on the OnePlus One was the Camera, is Camera Next a Cyanogen or OnePlus product?
Carl: It's a Cyanogen Product. The algorithm are made by us. The software, or wrapper, UI is made by Cyanogen.
Nick: So things like Clear Image, is that a OnePlus product?
Carl: That's a technology that's licensed by us, but implemented by Cyanogen. So things like Tap-to-Wake, Clear image, these are things we can continue to use.
Nick: How about the theme engine, I know this is actually Cyanogen's, but would you do your own Theme Engine?
Carl: It's interesting. But we have just started to hire a team for Android, I don't think we'll be able to do a lot of apps in a short period of time. We have to prioritize. We don't have the resources and a short amount of time to make it.
Nick: In terms of bands that are supported, in the UK only one band is supported. Were you planning to come out with another version to support them?
Carl: For future products there will be an American and an European version.
Nick: In terms of issues with the phone, we had the digitizer, the yellow bar, etc., how have you learned from those issues?
Carl: The digitizer issue we learned that we needed to be in much more communication with our supplier early on. We didn't communicate closely enough with them early enough. We're still working on the digitizer with Synaptics. As far as the screen issue, it was still due to the communications with our supplier. It looked like we had something to hide, but it was due to how it was made and the technology behind it. Because of the backlight, if you didn't have material there it would result in screen bleed. Looking at other IPS displays, you'll see other issues. Every issue becomes a big issue with our customers since we are such a vocal company. If we can learn early on in our company how to deal with it, we'll have an advantage over other companies that have to learn it later on.
Nick: For future products, would you consider partnering with carriers?
Carl: We will consider selling through carriers. It doesn't make sense for us to sell at a higher price through carriers. We are focusing on emerging markets. Maybe on 2016 or later, we might consider working with carriers in developed markets like the US and Europe.
Nick: Recently released a few accessories, what are your thoughts on those?
Carl: We can share some information some people might not know. We lose around $0.50 for every battery pack sold. A lot of people just look at capacity in the battery packs and that's it. There's quality of the battery too. For ours we used lithium polymer, which gives you a longer life span, and its the same battery that's in our OnePlus One. A lot of the batteries on Amazon are lower quality. We wanted to make something good quality. Our thought was even if we lose some money, we get our product into more hands. In the end, it's our way of marketing ourselves. It's not something to make money on, but to advertise.
Nick: Upcoming hardware, what does OnePlus have planned?
Carl: Tablets won't be our thing. We haven't really seen any good implementations with tablets. And no one's really making money on tablets. When we made this company we understood that the smartphone was the most important product for everyone. We could have started with any other product, but it wouldn't affect everyone as much as a smartphone. Imagine if we announced a smartwatch last year instead of a smartphone. We wouldn't be as popular as we are now. We have some prototypes, but we haven't decided on what we are going to make next.
Nick: Finally, any plans on the OnePlus Two you could share?
Carl: Internally, we've changed the release windows 4 or 5 times. But we're planning to have it available in Q2 or Q3. There's a lot more expectations on us this time, a lot more pressure.
Nick: We've seen rumors of it [the OnePlus Two] being smaller?
Carl: We've actually changed the display size several times as well. The final product will surprise people.
Nick: One of my biggest disappointments was the StyleSwap covers, is that something you [OnePlus] plan on doing again?
Carl: We have the Bamboo covers available again for purchase. We made another batch of 10,000, and they are currently available. However, they are still invite only.
Finally, we'd like to thank Carl Pei of OnePlus for sitting down and talking with us for about 30 minutes or so.
Update: We added to the interview stating that the Bamboo covers are available, but you do still need an invite.