OnePlus stumbles into its own Notchgate fiasco, long-term fans vow to avoid OnePlus 6
One of the issues with having a company mantra like “Never Settle” is that on occasion it will come back to bite you and this seems to be exactly what has happened this week for OnePlus. Or at the very least, Carl Pei of OnePlus. As the company’s co-founder and self-appointed Twitter point of contact made comments this week which evidently seemed to fly in the face of values associated with not settling, let alone never settling.
Welcome to the notch. It is still unclear whether notch is the official terminology for this sort of design cue, though it is certainly the currently adopted terminology in spite of being somewhat factually inaccurate. As the notch itself is meant to denote leftovers from a bezel. It is the screen that is now encroaching on the bezel, reducing it down to a small portion centrally positioned on the front panel, more so than the screen suddenly having a part of it cut, chipped, or carved away in a typical ‘notching’ fashion. In either case, what is clear is that Android users collectively (but not entirely) are not a fan of the notch design, as of yet. Which is why Pei’s recent comments rang so loudly in the ears of the OnePlus fanbase this week.
How notchgate unfolded
OnePlus gave an exclusive interview to The Verge in which Pei confirmed the upcoming OnePlus 6 will feature a notch. To many, this is not that surprising considering the OPPO R15 was announced a couple of weeks ago and there is a clear assumption the design of the R15 is -- at the very least -- the basis of the design of the OnePlus 6. A la the OnePlus 5 and the OPPO R11. So the confirmation of the notch itself, while not great from the perspective of some of the Android community, was not a surprise. What was surprising, however, was the tone used by Pei when answering questions posed during the interview. The most notable of which came in the form of “it’s a very clear decision: more real estate for the user. In conclusion, learn to love the notch.” With the latter “learn to love the notch” being what has really irked some of the Android community. If making such a condescending statement once in an interview what not quite enough, Pei also shared the original article through his Twitter account and actively repeated the “learn to love the notch” phrase. Again, for a company that actively promotes how its customers do not have to “settle” to then tell them not once, but twice, in quick succession that they should settle for a notch and learn to love it, was asking for trouble.
And it seems trouble is exactly what it found as OnePlus users did not take kindly to the suggestion and fought back on Twitter by highlighting how this is not what they want, how OnePlus is not listening to its audience -- something the company quite vocally and routinely says it does -- and how they won’t be buying the new notch-touting OnePlus smartphone, the OnePlus 6. In spite of all of this occurring within the last 24 to 48 hours, the impact of this feedback already seems to be taking its toll as Pei has seemingly since deleted the original Tweet. The article containing the original “learn to love the notch” quote and its repercussions are unlikely to be as easy to undo.
It's not entirely Apple's fault
One of the reasons many are seemingly so fundamentally opposed to the notch is the iPhone X. Not so much that the iPhone X has a notch, or was the first to add one -- as it wasn't the first -- but more so the very fact that so many Android OEMs have been so readily eager to include a notch, so quickly, as a response to the iPhone X. OnePlus included, as during the same interview Pei confirmed the OnePlus approach was inspired by Apple’s notch decision. To avoid misrepresentation, when Pei was asked whether OnePlus would have included a notch if not for the iPhone X, he responded with “maybe not as fast.” A design basis that seems to be evident in other areas of the OnePlus experience, as like the notch, the beta navigation gestures OnePlus users now have are uncannily like the navigation gestures on the iPhone X. When also asked about this in the same interview, Pei responded in kind with “we saw the implementation on the iPhone” while further adding “maybe it would have taken longer if Apple hadn’t done it.” So based on Pei's comments alone, it is clear that from the in-house OnePlus perspective, Apple is a driving force when it comes to not only the design of OnePlus phones, but also some of the features OnePlus users get. Arguably, OnePlus device owners are settling for what is already available to iPhone device owners, and this is based on the actions of OnePlus, not Apple.
Not the first time OnePlus device owners have settled
In reality, this is not the first time OnePlus has gone against the grain of its ‘Never Settle' motto as this is something that has become more prevalent of late. The notch has just proven to be the most obvious example. For instance, wireless charging. This is something that is a hot topic in the Android world with a number of OEMs turning to the wireless standard as a means to add an extra level of convenience to its customers. Much like every industry now, with manufacturers of most products looking at ways in which they can detach users from a wired lifestyle. Though, OnePlus has continually avoided including the new technology in its smartphones, and defending its position by stating its users don’t need wireless charging. Cleverly, as a means of distraction from the lack of a feature that could be included as an optional functionality, the company decided to market its Dash Charge technology as the fastest charging solution out there. While this might be technically true, saying something is the fastest of an older generation technology (wired charging) is not quite the same as offering consumers the latest technology. Another example of settling, maybe? Albeit behind a very convincing marketing approach.
Then there was the display. Specifically, the 18:9 aspect ratio issue. While the current -- if you can still call it that seeing it is no longer on sale -- OnePlus 5T features an 18:9 aspect ratio, the OnePlus 5 did not at launch, immediately resulting in a dated-looking device compared to its contemporaries, and a design factor the company faced criticism over. Though, again, in a separate interview with The Verge, OnePlus made it clear that due to the size of the company, it was not able to respond to market changes and new form factors quite as fast as the likes of Samsung and Apple. Essentially, OnePlus was unable to on-the-fly move away from the development of the current display in favor of the newer and so-far proving to be popular display format. In other words, OnePlus had to settle for the display it was using, and by association, so did its customers. While on the face of it this is a valid argument for a company that by its own admission is still a small company -- and with the “never settle” mantra aside for a moment -- it does seem convenient to be able to draw on the lack of ability to respond early to display developments like the 18:9 aspect ratio when in fact this is exactly what OnePlus has managed to do with the notch.
It is clear that users do want more screen estate from their phones and it is equally clear that a number of OEMs (specifically China-based ones) have directly interpreted this as ‘making an iPhone X.’ Therefore, it does stand to reason that the notch is going to become common in Android going forward and this is likely to have been the grander point Pei was trying to make with the “learn to love the notch” comment, as Pei was likely referring to the trend in general. But irrespective of this, the company cannot go around claiming its inability to include one display technology that customers actually want (18:9) due to the size of the company, to then just a matter of months later position itself as one of the first adopters of a notch and telling customers that actually don't want a notch to “learn to love it.”
A warning to other OEMs
While OnePlus claims to listen to its user base, it clearly has not on this occasion as although Android users may very well learn to love the notch in due course, the speed at which some OEMs are trying to bring and sell the notch to their customers is not being received well at all. Based on the last 24-48 hours, and actions such as Pei deleting the original tweet, it does seem likely OnePlus has now heard its customer feedback loudly and clearly. The irony of the situation, however, is the company is probably unable to do anything about it now, with the OnePlus 6 so close to its release. The notch is coming. The question now to other OEMs looking to pick up some of the OnePlus traffic is whether they are also hearing the customer feedback on the notch in time to avoid making the same mistake.