It's a little early to say with any certainty whether or not OnePlus should be focusing on TVs and especially considering the company announced very few details on what it will offer. However, one thing that is easier to suggest, is this is a fairly big move for the company, and one that might even prove to be a bridge too far.
The TV game is not easy and this is even more true right now due to the transitional state the TV market is now in. Smart is everything and from the consumer point of view, the TV can never be smart enough. Consumers are now not only starting to expect assistant-enabled TVs, but also ones that cater as much as possible to cord-cutting. Which typically means a high level of app integration, as well as an extremely reliable and consistent user experience. Which brings to the first and most important hurdle OnePlus faces. The software experience.
OxygenOS not a great fit
OnePlus has its own software solution, OxygenOS, and it has taken its time to get to where it’s today. OnePlus prides itself on offering a near-stock version of Android along with just enough tweaks to make it different and more useful. It stands to reason the company will want to apply its own software solution to its TV product(s) – at least in markets outside China. But that’s not a viable solution for a TV and it seems OnePlus is already acutely aware of this as in an interview with PCMag, OnePlus confirmed it will be employing an OS partner. Typical of OnePlus, the company did not want to share who the partner was, although the obvious solution would be Google and its Android TV platform. Obvious not only because it’s Android made for TV, but also because it’s easy to deploy. However, the reason it’s easy to deploy is because it’s a straight-to-market solution and one that does not really tally with OnePlus and its approach to software. Yes, companies can throw one or two of their own apps into the Android TV mix, but generally speaking Android TV is Android TV across all devices and leaves little option for greater customization. Therefore, this might limit how much OnePlus can make its software OnePlus-like.
OnePlus has made the suggestion artificial intelligence will be a big thing with its TV solution. To the point where the company has alluded to its TV being smarter than other TVs and one which is almost more virtual assistant than TV. While this seems like an appealing proposition, how smart OnePlus can make a TV using Android TV remains to be seen. For example, the easiest way for the company to differentiate its product is to pack it with its own assistant technology. But, it seems highly unlikely Google would approve an Android TV device that does not place the Google Assistant at its core, let alone one which actively promotes a competing product. That’s just not going to happen. Yet, if OnePlus just opts for the usual Google Assistant implementation then the notion of an even smarter products goes out the window. If this is just loaded with Android TV, Google Assistant, SmartThings, and the various other third-party connected services, then it will just be the same as any other TV running Android TV. Therefore, will OnePlus really want to enter the crowded and competitive TV market with an Android TV-based product?
Specs are everything and nothing with OnePlus
There is also the issue of specs. TVs are highly spec-based and arguably the specs are literally what sells a TV in the first place. OnePlus, though, is a little contradictory when it comes to specs. The company says they don’t matter during each smartphone launch event and yet packs its phones with industry-leading specs. More contradictory, though, is how these phones are not across-the-board high-spec devices. The display being a prime example. On paper, OnePlus phones do not come with the best display in the world. While some might argue the display is good enough, and it might be, we are talking about the specs game here. For example, in the smartphone world QHD/QHD+ is literally becoming the high-end norm, and yet OnePlus has continually kept to an FHD level with its devices. The most recent of which being the OnePlus 6 which sports an FHD+ (2280 x 1080) resolution. The company has argued this is more than enough for consumers, although reading between the lines many understand the reliance on FHD to be a cost-cutting solution. Could the company really make the same sort of cost-cutting measures when it comes to a TV? A display-focused device? Seems unlikely. To compete properly, a OnePlus TV would not only need to be 4K but also come with all the additional bells and whistles associated with a premium TV display, as those specs, numbers and letters will matter far more than they do with a smartphone. A point which is already evident considering in the same PCMag interview, OnePlus seemingly confirmed this will be a 4K TV and will rely heavily on software to improve the visual experience.
The display is only one example, as while OnePlus does offer good value for money with its smartphone products, they arguably do lack when it comes to added-value features. Compare the OnePlus 6 to the likes of a Samsung phone and you will see just how much features you can get in a phone today, and how many you don’t get with a OnePlus phone. Unless the company plans to release more of a bare-bones product, this is a philosophy OnePlus will need to change quickly. Yet, if it does go the bare-bones route, then it once again remains to be seen how effective the product will be at the market level, as well as sticking to the idea of this TV being smarter than others.
Availability likely to be an issue to begin with
This is a new product. This is a new OnePlus product. Which can only mean one thing – availability will be an issue. OnePlus is not the type of company to announce a new TV and then immediately open the sales floodgates. This literally would go against the very essence of OnePlus which religiously looks to manage margins. While the infamous ‘invites’ for phones have now largely been retired, it would seem likely a similar system will be in use for a new TV. Which brings with it, its own issues. Will consumers really want to earn, compete, or wait to be invited to buy a TV? Will OnePlus be able to make enough to warrant an impact on the market? Likewise, a big hurdle for OnePlus will be consumer exposure. TVs are a unique proposition and for most consumers ‘seeing is believing.’ OnePlus has never really had a retailer relationship with a physical presence (although that might be starting to change) and it has instead tended to focus on a straight-to-consumer approach. An approach which does not lend itself well to TVs. If consumers are unable to head down to their local Best Buy, Target or Walmart to check out a new TV then it would seem unlikely a large percentage of the general market will be interested in buying a TV from OnePlus. Just look at Amazon. This is easily one of the most important and powerful online retailers in the world, and yet it still sees the value in eyes-on and having customers engage with its Alexa-equipped TVs in person.
Another LeEco fiasco in the making?
If you ever needed an example of how entering the TV game can be bad for business, you only need to look as far as LeEco. This is a company that purchased VIZIO before launching a massive and high-profile ‘we have arrived’ launch event in the US to promote its new TVs. Yet, within a matter of weeks the cracks started to show and within months the beginning of the end was evident. Now, LeEco is effectively non-existent in the US and while it did manage to sell a number of TVs, those products have been left out in the cold with a complete lack of support. A situation which has likely not helped other brands and manufacturers who are now looking to enter the US, and especially with new products, and even more especially, with TVs. LeEco proved the TV game is not an easy one to transition to, while not so eloquently highlighting how quickly such a move can have a devastating impact on a business as a whole.
If anyone can, maybe OnePlus can
In saying all this, what OnePlus has achieved over the last few years should not be ignored. This is a company who has disrupted the smartphone business and carved out its own niche which is something that is very hard to do nowadays in the crowded smartphone market. This is to a point where the company enjoys a very active and engaged user community who seem to have an unwavering loyalty to and affinity with the brand. So while there are going to be plenty of obstacles and hurdles for OnePlus to overcome with a TV, this is a company who has already proven that breaking the mold is possible.