When OnePlus came out with their first smartphone in 2014, the premium phone market globally was dominated by the big boys, Samsung and Apple, fighting each other for dominance of the market share, and firms such as Nokia and Blackberry were crashing out of the top range market. Starting out as a 'Flagship Killer', offering one phone every year with at a much lower price point than the market leaders, it has become a major player in its own right, especially in India.
According to data from Counterpoint research, OnePlus was the best-selling premium smartphone brand (phones priced over Rs 30,000) in 2018 with a market share of 36% in Q4. The report states that the OnePlus 6T was the best-selling premium smartphone in Q1 2019, a title it has held since its launch in October 2018 with 26% market share. Data from Counterpoint also says that the company ended on the top of the pile in the premium smartphone segment in three out of the last four quarters.
The company recently launched the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro, breaking convention by launching two phones simultaneously. In terms of price points, the company has slowly grown from the Rs 20,000 range in its intial days to touching the Rs 50,000 mark with the latest OnePlus 7 Pro. However, the OnePlus 7 is being retailed at Rs 33,000 onwards.
In a conversation on the OnePlus journey, Vikas Agarwal, the India head for OnePlus said, "This year, we have decided to launch two versions of our phones. The OnePlus 7 is meant for our regular features and offers the traditional OnePlus experience, while the OnePlus 7 Pro is meant for the customers looking for more from their phones and offers a more premium product at a higher price point. We also decided on launching two phones based on feedback from our users and members of the community. This is also aimed at our users in markets such as the US and Europe that is a key focus area for us."
In another first, OnePlus has not withdrawn their older version, The OnePlus 6T from the Indian market yet. "India is a very price sensitive market. We hope to offer more for our customers by keeping the OnePlus 6T in our stores in the country. We tend to focus on only our latest products, since we are a smaller brand and cannot afford to subsidise our products and bring down prices of the older models, like what other players in this segment tend to do. This is a new thing for us. It is too early to speculate if we will follow this for models that will be launched in the future " Vikas says.
In the highly competitive Indian smartphone market, despite a brief flirtation with the OnePlus X, the company remains focused on the premium segment. "We believe that we offer the best products in this range for our customers. We are not looking at launching multiple phones across segments. As the smartphone market matures, especially in India, we see more and more customers making the switch from regular smartphones to premium ones." Vikas points out.
Unlike other Chinese players in the fray, where the focus of companies such as Huwaei (the Chinese market leader), Oppo and Xiaomi is on the domestic Chinese market, OnePlus is more focussed on the global market. "We are growing in the US and Europe, which are very important geographies for us. India is also very important and we hold about one-third of the premium smartphone market share in the country. Though India remains a very price sensitive market, we feel that there is a growing number of customers who are willing to pay more for a good product. We are backed by a very strong community and are still moderately priced compared to the big boys in the category, such as Apple and Samsung." Agarwal says.
The 5G switch
In the premium market, 5G is the new buzzword, with analysts and experts saying that technology will change the way in which technology intersects with our lives. Phone makers have been observing it and are confident about adopting it when it comes to India. "5G is already live in a few markets and we have tied up with various players in those markets. We are working with Qualcomm, Jio and Airtel to start testing the technology. We hope to have a good functional product when 5G comes to India and are very happy with the technology. 5G is going to be our core strength," he adds.
The TV tales
Like many other companies in the space, OnePlus recently said that it is making a foray into the television space. "We feel that smart TVs are receiving a lot of interest lately. There is a huge market and smartphones and TVs complement each other, especially with respect to functions such as streaming content and so on. The OnePlus TV will be a standalone product, but it may work well in tandem with smartphones. We are looking at something that will offer a seamless experience for the user while moving from the smartphone to the television."
When they started out, OnePlus was very exclusive, a bit like Gmail when it started out, with invites and other offers. "Ït helped us build a very strong community. Bengaluru is one of the primary centres and boasts of the city with a huge OnePlus community. In India, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune are our top markets. We are expecting about 60% growth this year," stated Agarwal.
An offline push
After years of retailing only on online platforms such as Amazon, OnePlus products are retailed at six authorised OnePlus stores, Croma stores, Reliance Digital and Sangeetha Mobile stores across the country. "Our experience centres in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and New Delhi have been very popular. Though online sales are quick and efficient, the offline experience is useful for getting to know more about the product. For instance, in the OnePlus 7 Pro, a live demo of the screen and display in the store would help customers experience the product and buy it."