The Big Debate: OnePlus, Good For The Industry Or Just Good At Marketing?

Welcome to The Big Debate.

This is a new series here at AndroidHeadlines where we will look to provide different perspectives on some of the more interesting (and at times, controversial) technology talking points. This is not meant to lead the discussion in any way or to suggest one side is truer than the other. The object here is to simply open the discussion by providing insight from the editing team on a given topic.

Below you will find perspectives to the question posed from all of the editors and in alphabetical order - again to avoid the suggestion of leading the narrative. Each editor has their own perspective, experience, and knowledge of the topic and has provided their insight without seeing the insights from the other editors. So whether rightly or wrongly, whether you agree or not, it is their opinion on the debate. Nothing more, nothing less. With the exception of minor edits (a comma here, a full stop there) the words of each editor are their own. After the individual opinions, you will see a brief and rudimentary ‘wrap up’ which will look to sum up whether the majority of the editors swung one way or whether it proved to be a more balanced outcome. Again, this summary is not designed to answer the question but just to provide an overview of the collective thoughts. After which, feel free to add your own comments and insights by joining the debate.

Is OnePlus Good For The Industry Or Just Good At Marketing?

Background: OnePlus has built up a substantial and loyal customer base although it has proven at times to be a controversial company. The question posed here is whether OnePlus is proving to be a disruptor in the sense that it is helping the market overall or whether it is just proving to be an unnecessary disruption in general - one that has risen to its position based more on its marketing than its contribution. 

Alex Maxham: (@alexmaxhamIn an industry that is already pretty crowded, with mostly overpriced smartphones, OnePlus is a breath of fresh air. OnePlus smartphones are not perfect, by any means, but the perfect smartphone does not exist. With the larger smartphone makers like Samsung and Apple pushing out smartphones that are crossing the $1,000 mark, it’s good to see that you can still get a flagship smartphone with the latest processor, plenty of RAM, a huge battery and a ton of storage for almost half that price. Especially for those that are not willing to spend that much on a smartphone that will need to be replaced in a couple of years, or less.

While the OnePlus 5T may not offer all of the features of the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 or even the HTC U11, OnePlus has stuck with what works, and that is a minimalist user interface in OxygenOS. Keeping only the features that users want and/or need. The features that OnePlus does have built into OxygenOS are actually very useful, including that Alert Slider on the side of the device. Of course, it is nice to have all of those other neat and awesome features that Samsung, LG and HTC put into their smartphones, but are those features used that often? Not really - hence the reason why Samsung removed quite a few over the past few years.

There are plenty of smartphones that are cheaper than the OnePlus 5 and the 5T, like the Moto G and Moto E lineups. However those do not sport the latest and greatest specs on the market. With companies like OnePlus putting out pretty decent smartphones at relatively low prices, it should help drive the cost down a bit and drive more competition. Competition is always good for any industry, it almost always is a good thing for consumers, and that is the case for smartphones from OnePlus.

Dominik Bosnjak (@dddominikk): OnePlus is an extremely polarizing company and one that often appears to be the victim of its own marketing department which managed to make it a somewhat relevant phone maker on a tight budget and against most odds. Comparing its previous offerings to their high-end peers, it's hard to argue that any of them were true "flagship killers." Yes, the company managed to cram a lot into most of its products, especially considering how it only broke the $500 mark last year, and even that threshold wasn't passed by the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T variants with 6GB of RAM. However, compare these flagship killers to any actual flagships and the difference is hard to deny, whether you value build quality, mobile photography, customer service consistency, or just general quality-of-life features such as waterproofing and wireless charging.

While OnePlus is far from the only manufacturer that oversells its products, its dubious claims become harder to glance over, in light of its insistence that it's fighting the good fight against those evil profit margin hunters by having your best Twitter buddies Carl Pai and Pete Lau walking around NYC in funny t-shirts trying to sell you on their dream smartphone that was assembled in their garage. Oh, and they're also selling some bags so make sure to buy them as well to support the fight against our corporate overlords.

Ditto for its long history of missteps, from going back on its software support promises for older devices and cheating on benchmarks to strange design decisions that led to inverted display panels, highly dubious privacy policies that went as far as to allow it access to its customers' phone numbers without their knowledge, and ridiculously weak e-commerce protections that compromised tens of thousands of credit cards around the world because some of the higher-ups probably wanted to save on the costs of some trivial thingy such as end-to-end encryption for transactions. Worst of all, that's just the tip of the OnePlus iceberg, also known as "2017."

If OnePlus stopped pretending it's a tiny startup that's not selling rehashed OPPO devices and just advertised its offerings as delivering the best value in their price range, I'd respect the company a lot more. Even now, I feel like OxygenOS is the best custom Android implementation I ever saw in terms of responsiveness and believe that a handset with a high-end chip and plenty of RAM under $500 should be at the top of most smartphone lists for value-oriented consumers, even without stellar after-sales support and longevity you'd expect from a more expensive product. But until OnePlus stops looking up toward Samsung while tripping over its own corporate feet, nothing will improve its public image and these endless conversations about whether its brand is good or bad for the industry will never stop. As for its promotional activities, I wouldn't just say OnePlus is good at marketing; the company's track record with products makes me pretty convinced it's too good at marketing given the state of its other divisions.

John Anon (@dardawks): Whether or not OnePlus is good for the industry it is certainly a marketing-focused brand. This is something that has not changed over the years as OnePlus heavily turned to social media to promote the One and to this day still relies heavily on its marketing and social media tactics. Without proper release channels and traditional to-customer routes available, OnePlus has relied on social media and marketing to not only promote its latest devices and/or technologies but also gain attention. This has more often than not resulted in a passive-aggressive approach with its marketing, where the company is quick to downplay the importance of missing features while over-exaggerating the importance of included features. Likewise, OnePlus has proven to be very quick at dishing out the criticism to other companies but seems less able to take similar levels of criticisms itself - likely due to the brand relying so heavily on its ‘image.’

Which brings up the next issue with OnePlus - controversy. This is a company that has repeatedly hit the headlines for negative reasons. Literally, every device OnePlus has launched has come with reports of some issue or worrying concern. So while some will see the low prices (in reality, not so low anymore) as a positive for the industry, there is a toxic aspect to OnePlus and what seems to be an underlying motive to disregard bad news as ‘fake news.’ Something that is certainly not good for the industry. If OnePlus wants to be a leader in the industry then it will need to start taking a greater level of responsibility for its actions and rely less on downplaying issues, misdirection, and general marketing spin to excuse what are genuine concerns and criticisms. While the company does offer good value with its devices, it only does so if you plan to upgrade again soon. Otherwise, like OP5 owners - when the OP5T came out - you might find yourself feeling a little hard done by in the long-term.

To answer the question as directly as possible, no, OnePlus is not good for the industry as it sees itself as outside of the industry - something special when in reality it is just another smartphone company, selling another smartphone. And no, OnePlus is not even that great at marketing, as while it has been effective up until now this type of marketing approach is a dangerous one. When a brand is so image-reliant it does only take one really serious issue for the cards to fall and fall hard. Take the Note7 fiasco that Samsung survived for example - could OnePlus have survived such an issue? It’s doubtful.

Justin Diaz (@GeneralPleb85): Four short years ago an unknown company named OnePlus entered the smartphone market. Through guerilla marketing tactics, a heavy social media presence, and a healthy dose of bravado, OnePlus garnered a following, which only continued to grow and has now led the company to build up a loyal fanbase. Of course OnePlus isn’t without its shortcomings. Despite having a big cult following of users who would bend over backwards to get their hands on a new OnePlus device, OnePlus, like any company, has experienced pitfalls. Sure, OnePlus offers a product that sounds compelling and it even offers it at a price which is in stark contrast to big-name brands like Samsung and LG, all while beefing up its devices with top-of-the-line specs that match flagships from those brands.

All that aside, OnePlus as a brand and as a device have had their fair share of problems, and this begs the question of whether OnePlus is really good for the smartphone industry or if it’s more of a hinderance. When it comes to downsides, OnePlus releases a new phone about every six months it seems like, while only providing very minor updates to the hardware. Take the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T for example, which launched in June and December of 2017 respectively. Both are very similar in nature, offering the same hardware underneath, but OnePlus changed the design of the display and removed the home button, while moving the fingerprint sensor to the back. Not much else changed, which makes it seem like kind of a pointless release when it could have pushed the device launch out a bit and wait until releasing the OnePlus 6, which the company is still of course going to release at some point this Summer.

This sort of release time frame not only alienates consumers who may have recently purchased the current device only to discover that it will now be outdated within a few months, it gives OnePlus less time to develop and manufacture phones. It shouldn’t be overlooked that OnePlus is doing some good. It offers devices with top-end specs at a much lower price than competitors. The company’s Dash Charge technology is also extremely fast, and attacks a common problem among smartphone owners - battery life, . The company is also very active on social media and in its own forums being communicative with fans and users, which is good for the user because it lets them know what’s happening in regards to bugs and other issues, feature adds, software updates and the like. OnePlus’ competitive nature has also forced other larger and more well-established brands to work harder to develop something better. At the same time though it seems this has also pushed the cost of those high-end phones upward, meaning consumers now have to look at paying more for a high-end phone from brands like Samsung. Is OnePlus a friend or foe to the smartphone market? While some will argue one way or the other, the company is really both. While it’s hurting the market in some ways, it’s helping it in others, even if its own phones are lacking and in need of more attention to detail in terms of real quality.

Kristijan Lučić (@MrKrisWhyNot): OnePlus is one of those companies that you either love or hate. While quite a few negative, OnePlus-related reports surfaced in the last year or so, some of the accusations against OnePlus were legit, some were not, but it seems like it did not affect the company all that much. It is hard to deny that OnePlus is doing a really good job as far as marketing is concerned, well, that’s at least my opinion, and even though I do think that OnePlus, as a whole, is a shady company, to say the least, I do believe that they’re affecting the smartphone industry in a good way.

OnePlus is a part of BBK Electronics, a company which owns OPPO and Vivo as well, and as a result of that, OnePlus’ smartphones often resemble devices from OPPO and Vivo. OnePlus had its fair share of controversies in the last year or so, but despite that, I still keep on using the company’s devices, and there’s a good reason for it, they fit my needs perfectly. Even though OnePlus’ smartphones may not ship with all the features that other flagship phones come with, their smartphones do hit the target where it matters, where some other, more popular flagships, fail. In my opinion, OxygenOS is actually a great iteration of Android, as it’s extremely fluid, and it adds some useful software features on top of Android, while it does not mess with Google’s design. OnePlus’ devices offer great performance, and battery life, amongst other things, even though there are some improvements that could be made in the design and camera departments, for example. All in all, it is hard to deny that you’re getting a lot for the asking price, which is the whole point of the company’s flagships if you ask me.

I could make this a really long piece, and talk about pluses and minuses of OnePlus’ smartphones and also the company itself, but the bottom line is, I do think that the company’s smartphones are focusing on what matters, even though they do sacrifice some features in order to be competitive in terms of pricing. Having that in mind, OnePlus’ devices are capable alternatives to Google’s Pixel phones which are not available in certain regions, like where I live, for example, not to mention that they’re considerably more affordable than Google’s offerings, especially in Europe. For half the price of the Google Pixel 2 XL, you can get a phone which offers the same level of performance, a great battery life, nice-looking display, and a solid camera, which is not something a lot of phones can say for themselves. OnePlus may have its issues, as every company does, but I do believe that it is pushing other companies to improve in certain areas, and I do believe that OnePlus’ smartphones are unique in their own right, which makes OnePlus a more than worthy competitor to other smartphone OEMs out there.

Nick Sutrich (@gwanatu): Over the years, OnePlus has built up a reputation of being controversial. If you’ve ever read an editorial here at AndroidHeadlines, or many of the news pieces in general, you’ll know what I mean. Whether or not this controversy is purposeful in OnePlus’ overarching marketing campaigns isn’t known, of course, but it’s definitely something that seems to be out of their control at times. The latest controversy with clipboard data being sent to Chinese servers is of course one such example, and while these claims have been shown to be false, they still resonate with buyers and the rest of the industry as part of a larger narrative.

So the question really boils down to this: is OnePlus good for the industry? Is a controversial OEM, no matter how intentional, really something we need in the world of tech, especially when other Chinese OEMs are already getting a bad rap by foreign governments? The long and short answer is yes, OnePlus is most certainly good for the industry, and it has everything (and nothing) to do with being controversial. Despite significant strides in quality, value and longevity, Chinese OEMs are often still relegated to the notion of making cheaper, or inferior products. Ever since OnePlus hit the market, there’s been a shift away from that mindset, and while it’s certainly not only OnePlus leading the charge here, they’ve been a big player in making folks aware of quality smartphones from Chinese brands that outperform the big name counterparts, all while retailing for significantly less.

Brand awareness is extremely important in the age of social media and digital marketing, as we’re often so bombarded by advertisements that it becomes hard to filter out the good from the bad. This also brings light to OnePlus’ community involvement, where we frequently see OnePlus employees, even including the upper echelon of executives, interacting with their fanbase and others on social media in a way that most companies simply don’t. This has created a clear brand attachment that, despite obvious problems that have come up in the past with devices, seems to draw a loyalty that’s second to none. Does OnePlus have work to do? Of course, but that’s the nature of business as a whole, and it’s pretty clear its innovations in the price and design areas have been key to its success as well. It’s become increasingly clear over the years that we need more than the duopoly that has formed in the smartphone industry, and increased competition from companies like OnePlus is clearly pushing innovation again. Now to just get back to pushing prices down again, and we’ll certainly see a healthier industry as a whole.

Wrap up - by John

To start things off this was not an easy task. All of the editors were asked to keep their insight to a word count to ensure readability. However, nearly all of the editors were unable to abide by the word count on this occasion with most feeling more words were needed to properly express their full opinion on the topic - which strikes at the heart of this particular debate and highlights how this is anything but a clear-cut discussion. As while most of the editors did independently pick up on some of the OnePlus marketing tactics being less than beneficial to the industry, they all felt OnePlus was bringing something to the smartphone scene - something positive. Whether that positivity outweighs the negativity, however, is where a common consensus could not be reached among the editors and for that matter, within each of the editor’s insights - something that remains still up for debate.

Vote and leave a comment below with your thoughts and opinions, #JoinTheDebate on social media or use one of the @ links above to directly connect and comment on points made by a specific editor. What do you think of OnePlus? Is OnePlus good for the industry or just good at marketing?

 

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About the Author
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John Anon

Editor-in-Chief
John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]
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