OnePlus needs to tone down its brand propaganda and speaking in riddles as it looks to turn the OnePlus smartphone brand into a OnePlus TV brand.
The company has made a successful business out of misdirection in the past and already appears keen on doing the same with the TV market. However, the TV market might not be as forgiving as the smartphone market and premium TV buyers will only be burned once by a company. Hi LeEco.
When OnePlus started out, it was a company totally reliant on community support. There's no doubt that support has carried the company forward over the years and will continue to as OnePlus transitions from a smartphone brand to a TV brand. But if OnePlus wants to really make a similar impact in the home market, then it will need to cut back on the propaganda.
The OnePlus TV branding show
OnePlus fans won't like this but OnePlus is more style than substance. OnePlus loves to tease its "fans" and in return they love to be teased. The relationship is mutually beneficial. But can the same be said for the average TV customer? Do TV buyers really want to be teased in the same way? With a TV brand, do you really care about anything other than substance?
Make no mistake, OnePlus customers will buy a OnePlus TV and OnePlus knows this. This is exactly why the company is launching in India first. It is not that India necessarily has a product gap in the market (the right reason), but more simply OnePlus has a fan base there it can rely on to guarantee a decent sales return.
Once sales grow in India, as they inevitably will, OnePlus can use those sales figures to convince others elsewhere of the OnePlus TV brand. It's always all just a marketing game with OnePlus.
More than just a marketing game, OnePlus plays games with fans. It likes to manipulate them into feeling part of something that they are not. All this talk about "family" and "community" is directly designed to placate fans. Pacify them into submission. Pacifying them into loving a company that only really cares about itself. Unlike a real family, you're only part of the OnePlus clique while you remain a consumer.
You only have to look at the OnePlus TV branding to see this pacifying in action. The company initially launched a "competition" asking for users to submit their own ideas for what the product should be called. Undoubtedly some suggested "OnePlus TV" as that is literally the most obvious name for a OnePlus TV.
But that's the point. Was is not so obvious that you can be sure OnePlus had settled on the name already? Did OnePlus really need to run a campaign and help from the "family" to come up with that name? No, of course not. The competition was pure marketing. Grassroots marketing. Hugs-all-around marketing. We did it, guys.
Apparently, OnePlus TVs are smart displays
Now that the company has confirmed the OnePlus TV brand will officially launch next month, OnePlus is in full marketing mode. This means you can can expect teasers and interviews to surface left and right. As well as the teasing and riddles to reach maximum overload.
In fact, one of those interviews took place last week where the company's CEO, Pete Lau made the case its TV are more smart display than TV. To repeat, its TVs are more smart display than TV. To repeat again, its TV.
Here's one of the quotes in full: "If you think about what's going to happen in five to ten years, I believe the TV is no longer the TV, it will be a smart display."
If OnePlus genuinely believes this then it probably should have called its new product line "OnePlus Smart Display," but it didn't. That's because OnePlus wants you to buy into an idea, not an actual product. Next month it wants you to buy something it claims its five to ten years away. Something that's a TV, but also not a TV. A mythical and mysterious device that only the mind of OnePlus could come up with. How lucky we all are to have OnePlus. Praise
the sun OnePlus.
The reality is far different and either OnePlus knows this and is just ramping up the marketing nonsense or worse still, it doesn't know this and genuinely is the first in line to drink its own Kool-Aid.
Smart TVs vs Smart Displays
If you were to ask someone what's the difference between a smart TV and a smart display, their immediate reaction might be size. Be honest, was that not your first thought?
This is somewhat true. TVs, at least in the mind's eye, are large. Likely larger than what the mind's eye perceives as a smart display. So size matters, but only to a degree. It is not a determining difference. It is simply a characteristic and characteristics can be shared by devices just like they can by people.
Size alone does not dictate whether something is a smart display or a TV.
Neither does the functionality. If you were to draw comparisons between a dumb TV and a smart display then you would have functional differences. Just like you would if you compared a dumb TV to a smart TV.
In today's world, there's no functional difference between a smart display and a smart TV at all. The clue is in the names. They are both smart. Both devices are capable of doing the same things whether that be displaying video, connecting to your smartphone, or for that matter, any and every device in the home.
Like size, function is not a defining difference.
The difference is the UI
The real difference between a TV and a smart display is the physical user experience. How you, the user, physically interacts with the device. Realistically, this is the only defining difference between any two products with screens. Look at tablets and phones. While they are considered different, they are so alike the world had to invent the term "phablet" just to explain away the significant overlap between them.
Size and cellular connectivity used to be what many assumed were tablet/phone differences, but even that's no longer the case. You can buy cellular-enabled tablets and you can buy phones as big as the smallest tablets. No functional difference. Yet they are still classified as different products. Again, the reason is UI design.
OnePlus has made it clear it wants its Android TV-powered TVs to be unique. To offer an experience different to other TVs, including others powered by Android TV. Forgetting the universal design of consumer Android TV for a moment, the suggestion OnePlus TV branded products can are considered a smart display over a TV is worrisome. Again, because of the UI.
Android TV-powered smart displays? Not likely
The easiest way to understand the difference is to remember a TV comes with a remote. That's it. No matter what the TV is capable of, it all comes back to the remote. That is the way a user interacts with and controls a TV.
In fact, this is the very definition of official Android TV and what sets it apart from TV set-top boxes running on Android. Android TV STBs are designed so that every element (UI, navigation, apps, etc) can be easily controlled by the remote. They are specifically optimized for the remote.
The UI on a smart display is not designed in the same way. A smart display might come with a remote, but the UI remains fundamentally different. It is designed with touch in mind. In spite of smart displays being stationary (like a TV), requiring a permanent power supply (like a TV), and not exactly portable (like a TV), a smart display is still more similar to a smartphone than a TV. Again, due to UI design.
If you've ever used a smart display you'll understand this point perfectly. Pretty much every smart display feature requires you to tap an area of the display. Just like a smartphone. Yes, you can control some features via your smartphone – in this sense the smartphone is a remote control – but you can just as easily do the same with your TV. Even more so when both products are from the same brand.
UI design focus on the remote control is the sole defining difference between a smart display and a TV. One is optimized for touch, the other is optimized for clicks.
It is that simple.
So, what's OnePlus talking about?
Don't know to be honest. If we assume OnePlus is not just talking nonsense then we are left with the suggesting products under the OnePlus TV brand will be heavily reliant on touch controls. To the point where the UI is almost purpose-designed with touch controls in mind.
If that's true, then what sort of TV experience can we expect? Yes, it might be great to walk by a TV and tap a big "turn on light" button to turn on the light. And yes, it might be great if when you're sitting down, remote in hand, to have all the benefits of a remote-focused UI design, but that's easier said than done. They are fundamentally different UI designs. This is unless OnePlus plans to launch a device with the ability to boot between UI designs, but even that would require the user to manually switch back and forth each time.
Here's an example. Touch based UIs are best-served with large touch surfaces. Take an icon. Whether it's for an app, a button, or anything else, the bigger the touch surface is, the easier it is to launch the app or hit the button. In this sense, size does matter. That's why smart displays use a card-like design with big surface areas.
Typical TV UIs are different. Size matters in the sense you want the clickable space to be larger than a smartphone's icon, but not unnecessarily large. The larger they become, the fewer you can show on the TVs home screen. This would then result in the need for more frequent manual navigation.
TV design matters a lot
This highlights another, but related example. Due to the scrolling nature of smartphones and smart displays you can afford to have less icons/buttons in view. Scrolling is easy on these devices. TVs users don't scroll, they move one icon/button at a time. So the more navigating that's needed, the less convenient the user experience becomes. This balancing act is particularly problematic for TV design as a lot of video content relies heavily on previews. Whether that's thumbnails or video previews, you want the user to see the content. All while ensuring the size of the viewed elements are not adversely affecting the time it takes to navigate.
When you look at interaction user space, TV icons are often somewhere in between a smartphone and smart display. At least, relative to the size of the devices.
These are just a couple of examples of how a UI varies across products. The reality is the majority, if not the entirety of a UI is built from the ground up with the product in mind. That's if the UI is designed properly. If it's a TV, then with a TV UI in mind. If it's a smart display, a smart display UI. Yes, there's plenty of cross-device unity now with services looking to offer a harmonious and uniform experience on different devices, but that's not to assume the UI is common to all.
You still tap a smartphone/smart display, but click for a TV.
Maybe OnePlus is just exaggerating
It could be the case OnePlus is referring to smart displays in a far more basic manner. For example, the TV will do a few extra things compared to the next TV. In the same interview Lau does talk about showing your notes, calendar, and so on, but if that's the extent to what OnePlus considers innovation and a unique experience then it's way off the mark. Those features don't suddenly make a TV a smart display.
TVs from many brands already do or will do these things in the future. Yet, Lau talks as if OnePlus has invested something no one else has thought of yet. The same old OnePlus smartphone brand tactics applied to the new OnePlus TV brand.
Lau also spoke on how "passive" every other brand's TVs as if that's either true or even an issue. To be clear, smart displays do not exist because they do something a TV can't, they exist to serve an entirely different purpose.
Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with any company, including OnePlus, trying to up-sell its product prior to launch. It's just when a brand tries to directly mislead like OnePlus has by suggesting its TV is any more of a TV than other TV, it's worth consumers knowing the company is either trying to deceive them, or downright ignorant of how their own product works.
OnePlus did not reinvent the smartphone, nor will it reinvent the TV.
Also, as an avid Android TV user, I'm a little biased. We don't need any more poorly-executed, messy and/or buggy Android TV devices.
We've got plenty of them already, thanks. Hi again LeEco.