We live in an interesting time, spoiled for choices over mobiles. It is also a competitive times for the OEMs, barring Apple, almost all are under pressure to keep the margins low, get the price right and hope for the volumes. And it is also confusing times for the consumers, no longer they can walk in to a store and find all the devices under one roof. Many devices are now e-commerce exclusive, then there is flash sales model and you need to keep a tab on the calendar and clock and be ready with fastest fingers and pray for a little bit of luck. Amidst this, OnePlus has its invite model to purchase their phones.
When OnePlus launched their OnePlus One back in 2014, they were in an advantageous period. Back then, their One was truly a ‘flagship killer’, a remarkable device that democratized the flagship for masses. OnePlus One was available at a starting price of $299 (unlocked and without contract) for the 16GB model, while the 64GB variant was available at $349. For that price they offered a device with a 5.5-inch display with fullHD resolution, powered by Snapdragon 801, 3GB RAM, flashed Cyanogen OS and came equipped with a great set of camera specs. It challenged all the flagship devices with premium tags and soon became a name every tech writers talked about and many wanted to own. They also introduced an invite-only model which also helped the company to create a buzz and also handle its inventory and production in control. They were a new entrant and everyone loved them. Fans rooted for this David pitted against the likes of Apple, Samsung and HTC
People scrambled for invites, those who had the invites were the new celebrities and all the long lost friends and relatives pinged them for invites. The model worked for OnePlus, the demand ballooned, the waiting period queued up but still it was a ”flagship killer’ worth the wait. It was a novel marketing strategy and it worked for the lean company, few whimpers aside, the tide was with the company.
Come 2015. Paradigm shift in the industry. More Chinese players became mainstream, they are no more outlaws. Rest of the world warmly accepted them, each one brought in capable devices, even if not flagship killers, they offered best value for the money spend on them. Smartphones become more affordable and yesterdays big names struggled before the minnion’s blitzkriegs in terms of pricing and new-age marketing strategies. Suddenly, there are more Davids for the people to root for.
By now, OnePlus is no more the only ‘wonder kid’ in the mobile industry. Xiaomi made itself famous by popularizing and sensationalizing ‘flash sale model’ and more brands lapped it up. While all other new-age brands fired with all guns blazing with armada of models, OnePlus meticulously stuck with one model for a long time, since their One was still relevant even after many months. Then, they came up with OnePlus Two. By now, they have to divorce Cyanogen and came up with a new breather of OS, Oxygen. What did not change was their sales model based on invite.
While many expected OnePlus would have learnt from their One outing and made amends in their second offering, having experimented with the invite-only model for quiet a long period. Carl Pei, co-founder had to apologize to fans “we have messed up again” pretty soon. The tall promises of making invites 30-50x easier, did not happen. By now, there were more visible disgruntle. People are no more willing to be patient, they had more choices to look at.
Few weeks back, I was talking to a group of friends (none of them are tech writers, btw), our discussion veered to mobiles and when OnePlus name popped up, it was dismissed as ”INVITE CIRCUS’. And most of them had purchased a Smartphone from an e-commerce site and half of them on a flash sale. Incidentally, some of them when failed to get a particular Smartphone in a flash sale, just opted for a near comparable model from a rival in another sale. People have a hunger for Smartphones and suddenly they have plenty of options to eat.
And soon, there are more invites with people but less visible enthusiasm unlike when OnePlus One was launched. Many people seem to simply not bother about going after the invites, nor have the patience to wait for it. The invite circus has become cumbersome amidst the intense competition in the mobile industry. OnePlus has shied away from revealing numbers of devices sold but that doesn’t matter. Perception has changed with patience wearing out and options many.
OnePlus has now launched the OnePlus X. When I scanned the OnePlus X launch news in their official forum, one of the earliest comment I read was ‘”What’s the point ! no ones going to get a invite for least 6 months‘ The circus continues. It doesn’t matter if the company hosts open sales occasionally, they might even be clearing their inventory but to scale up and to be taken more serious, it is time for OnePlus to rethink its invite-basis model and innovate, else it will find the tide difficult in future and consumers can be unforgiving.