Mathures Paul finds out what lies ahead for OnePlus, the smartphone brand of the year

He met Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus India’s general manager, in Bangalore to discuss what lies ahead for the brand

  • Published 2.12.18, 9:04 PM
  • Updated 2.12.18, 9:04 PM
  • 3 mins read
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A OnePlus smartphone on display. OnePlus

OnePlus is having a blast of an innings, winning over consumers from other premium brands. The Shenzhen-based smartphone manufacturer arrived in India only four years ago and in no time has won over customer loyalty while forging a brilliant partnership with Amazon India, which is the company’s exclusive online partner. This year’s launches — OnePlus 6 and 6T — have only ensured it leads the premium segment (Rs 30,000 and above).

On the company’s fourth anniversary in the country, t2 met Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus India’s general manager, in Bangalore to discuss what lies ahead for the brand.

With OnePlus leading the premium segment in India, what will be your focus in 2019?

It has been a good year. But I would say we are still early in our journey because we are only four years old and the premium market is so small. Achievements there have been many, but it would be wise to focus on the challenges. Since we have become number one, expectations have been much higher. It is easy to be a challenger and enjoy momentary success but what we want to achieve is steady success; we are here for the long haul.

With us becoming number one, a lot more users are coming into this segment. The premium market has always been underserved, probably because the competition hasn’t focussed enough; so there is a lot of untapped demand. A lot of users we are getting are first-time premium users or people who have been using premium devices but now are moving to a different price segment. The competition has been increasing prices with the hope that these users would upgrade, which is not happening. Our users are smart and discerning; they are recommending what they are using.

Any big change we can expect?

What we are doing in 2018 is the same as what we did in 2015, that is, launch one device a year (besides an upgrade); all that has changed is the increase in scale. The one big change that will come in 2019 is OnePlus TV. This is our first big diversification, which is inspired by the potential the Indian market has to offer. Globally, the TV market is much more mature and competitive, but in India it is an under-penetrated segment. A lot of people are still on CRTs and small TVs, which means that a lot of people have missed the 10 years of transition to smart TVs, which is probably because of higher pricing and lack of a compelling proposition. With 4G (and upcoming 5G) and higher affordability, people want a better experience.

TV as a screen has a much bigger role to play than just offering content. People now want to go beyond their smartphone screens. Earlier, people got together to watch TV. In the future, I think people will go back to that old experience; there is an opportunity to bring people and families closer. When a OnePlus user looks for a complementary device, we have to be there. Our focus remains smartphones but we are open to categories that can make the experience even better.

Everyone is talking about 5G, but do you expect 5G to be a big driver next year?

For both new and declining technologies, things start accelerating before it happens. I think more and more brands will talk about it and put out some limited editions and positioning products just to showcase that they too have the expertise. It will go mainstream only when something like Jio supports it. You need Jio kind of enablers to make 5G mainstream. Feature phones were there till last year but suddenly a lot of people have moved to smartphones. 5G will probably be one of the few technologies in which India will enjoy the same growth curve as the rest of the world.

What would you attribute your success to?

One very unique thing about OnePlus is that our customers don’t just buy the product but they evangelise it, which has really helped us become number one in such a short period of time. Other brands had to depend on marketing and advertising to drive demand. In our case users drive the demand. There are a number of firsts for us. We have been platform exclusive; Amazon has been our exclusive partner for almost four years now and will continue to be so in the near future. Next, we launch only one device each year, which is an exception in the industry. After the launch of our device we follow it up with an upgrade. What we have noticed is that people are upgrading every six months and they are passing it on to someone in their families. In the next two to three years we will realise the true strength of the brand.

Can you share a bit about your R&D plans?

I see pretty much all big global tech brands having R&D facilities in India. We have already set up a pilot R&D centre where we have around 50 people and we are also hiring from campuses this year for the section. Next year we will have a full facility. The expectation is that over the next two or three years, India may emerge as our biggest R&D centre. If I look at the value chain in the smartphone industry, the real value lies in R&D.