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How Indie Phonemaker OnePlus Disrupted The Android Phone Market

OnePlus built a $299, no-contract, top of the line Android phone. Naturally, they can’t keep them in stock.

How Indie Phonemaker OnePlus Disrupted The Android Phone Market
[Image: Flickr Esther Vargas]

No one expected a no-name Android phone manufacturer to be a buzz brand in 2014, not even OnePlus itself. But after releasing its first and only product earlier this year called One, the company is beginning to see itself in a different light.

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Demand for the One, which retails starting at $299 off contract, was so large the company had to implement an invitation system slowly letting people purchase the phone. It wasn’t a marketing stunt–it was about making sure OnePlus could keep up with orders and not piss off customers.

“Our biggest fear was that no one would care about us, but this fear has completely evaporated over the past few months,” says director of OnePlus global Carl Pei. “The biggest issue we’re tackling at this moment is scaling. There are no shortcuts here. We’re putting in the hours, thinking hard, and finding thorough solutions and processes that gives us a foundation for growth.”

There are lots of device manufacturers around the world, so what makes OnePlus any different? For one, it’s the combination of price and build quality. Google’s own off-contract Nexus 5 starts at a higher price and hasn’t been as widely praised in reviews as the One.


But how did this phone manage to blow away the competition with so little resources behind it? For one, it does things differently on the software side. Instead of using a carrier modified version of Android like most OEMs, or even stock Android OS, the company is using Cyanogenmod. This aftermarket firmware gives the user nearly complete control over every aspect of the operating system and also provides additional enhancements not found in the stock version of Android.

The motto at OnePlus is “Never settle.” Pei explains that this means never settle on your quest to satisfy customers’ idea of a great phone. Through forums and social media, the company adopted new ideas and got feedback on the current specs. The box that the One ships in even says, “Designed together with our fans” as a nod to the input the company has received and implemented.

It’s still hard not to be jaded by a startup’s optimism, however, when it says it’ll “never settle.” As soon as sales reach a certain level priorities usually change for companies. Mostly because once there’s something to lose, it becomes hard to sacrifice a known quantity for experimentation.

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“Internally, we’ve discussed how this could manifest once we’re a billion-dollar company,” says Pei. “If we one day become a big company, apart from just chasing profits, we’ll also inspire the world to be better. We have some wild ideas for this, and our plan has already been put into place.”

Without giving away any actual details, Pei further explains, “It’s boring to create just any other company. We want to change things, not only in the smartphone industry, but also in the concept of what a company is.”

It’s early, but so far it’s working. Taking direct feedback from its fans and rethinking what it means to be a modern-day global company seems to be working for OnePlus. The company has yet to share any numbers, but it tells Co.Labs it sells every unit it makes, almost instantly. Pei also adds, “We’re confident that we’ll at least make a small dent in the market this year.”

And the takeaway for such a young company as it gears up to try and change the world?

Pei says focus on quality: “It’s really hard to not have a great product spread itself via word of mouth.”

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