With the announcement of the OnePlus 7 Pro, or better said, with the lack of an announcement of the regular OnePlus 7 in the United States, the Chinese manufacturer has now officially started the second phase of its long-term business strategy: profiling itself into a mainstream smartphone brand.
After half a decade's worth of flagship killers and devices that weren't quite flagship killers but still delivered a refreshing focus on value in the higher-end segment of the mobile market, OnePlus decided against releasing such a device in the United States this year. It instead resorted to providing the vast majority of its American consumers with only a single option – an 8GB/128GB variant of the OnePlus 7 Pro from T-Mobile, priced at the equivalent of about $700.
Sure, you could save a few more bucks by buying directly from the company but let's be real, if that was the only way to get your hands on the OnePlus 7 Pro stateside, the firm would not be counting on moving too many units.
Suffering from success
Yet that's precisely what it's doing now; the brand that once prided itself on reinvesting every single penny of profit into R&D meant to benefit consumers or at least claimed to be doing so is now paying presumably astronomical sums to A-list Hollywood actors for traditional advertising; extravagant marketing not even aimed at its Western audiences but largely paid by them.
That isn't to say OnePlus should be made to suffer for its success; after all, the firm managed to maintain its growth momentum even as its popularity was exploding over the course of the last five years or so. However, the decision to circumvent the United States with the OnePlus 7, what appears to be its last device that packs a punch despite being priced well-below a traditional flagship, at the very least signals OnePlus is done with pretending you can get a truly premium mobile experience without paying a comparable premium for it.
Or does it?
After all, it's barely been days since OnePlus launched a miniature promotional campaign essentially boasting about being too cheap to obtain ingress protection certification for the OnePlus 7 series while suggesting it could easily get one, naturally. Officially, the company spun the move as yet another piece of evidence it isn't looking to incur unnecessary costs that it would then be forced to pass on to its customers.
That nobility apparently doesn't apply when it comes to ads starring Robert Downey Jr. because having a celebrity who previously backed more than a single OnePlus competitor — and would generally have no issues with doing so again, if paid appropriately — endorse the OnePlus 7 Pro is certainly highly beneficial to consumers. Yeah, how about no?
An exercise in hypocrisy
It's actually not surprising OnePlus decided to go the Hollywood marketing route; after all, that's what mainstream brands do. That's what Samsung and HTC did in recent years with that very same guy whose latest famous role had him play a superhero in an iron suit. If the Shenzen-based manufacturer wants its momentum to evolve into something capable of going toe-to-toe with what Samsung and Huawei's better-funded marketing teams are coming up with on a monthly basis, it certainly needs to spend money.
But wow, doing so while still having the audacity to suggest it ditched IP certification because it didn't want its customers to incur extra costs is frivolous at best and laughable at worst. Sure, there are zero guarantees the OnePlus 7 Pro can actually survive being dropped in a bucket of water because its creators are thinking about how to save you money but paying Iron Man to promote the very same device to Chinese consumers certainly had nothing to do with the fact the true successor to the OnePlus 6T is nearly $100 more expensive.
Every upgrade debuted by the newly announced Android phablet, from its Fluid AMOLED screen and its 12GB RAM peak to the addition of a third rear camera and Night Mode improvements contributed to this year's price hike OnePlus embraced, and so did the company's increased marketing budget. Combined, those betterments and that price difference are a clear confirmation that if you're looking for a truly premium mobile experience, you simply can't be playing the value game.
That's why the likes of Honor, ZTE, and even Samsung are now offering devices that can compete with the OnePlus 7 Pro while costing less. Every move the company made is an admission that affordable flagships — the myth it supposedly spent years pursuing — simply don't exist.
Drawing a line? What's that?
Yet it's still insistent on doing the same old song and dance about value, about somehow being nobler than those greedy conglomerates that have it beat in terms of the number of smartphones they make, ship, and sell on a yearly basis.
Two or three years from now, OnePlus will probably be selling at least one device costing close to $1.000, just like the industry's big boys currently are. While it remains to be seen whether it will hire the latest actor playing Hulk or Spider-Man to promote that particular gadget, it will probably still try to claim it's a value-focused brand that doesn't waste exorbitant amounts of money on non-essential investments that it then passes on to consumers.
All of that is a shame because its products on their own are truly something else and appeal to many for all the right reasons, yet it's that kind of PR hypocrisy that continues to make this brand seem inherently dishonest, consequently making me skeptical about giving any money to them.
Oh well, it's not like they haven't been doing well without my affection so far; I just had to vent.