Interview: OnePlus’ Carl Pei talks OnePlus One, Cyanogen, and plans for the future

by: Bogdan PetrovanFebruary 12, 2014
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A part of the OnePlus international team

In a world of compromises, OnePlus, the young company that’s building the first smartphone designed from the ground up for CyanogenMod, wants you to Never Settle.

Founded by ex-Oppo executives, OnePlus has managed to draw the spotlight on its ambitious plans and even a small, but enthusiast fan following, by promising to make no compromises in designing, manufacturing, and selling its first smartphone, the OnePlus One. The OnePlus One is co-developed with Steve Kondik’s Cyanogen Inc, meaning that, for the first time, CM fans will get to use their favorite Android ROM on hardware that was designed from day one to complement it.

OnePlus is a newcomer in a cutthroat industry, where large players with decades of experience are duking it out, often with little profit to show for it. Can OnePlus find a niche in this overcrowded ecosystem? Is a no-compromise attitude towards making smartphones enough to guarantee success?

We’ve sat down with Carl Pei, Director of OnePlus Global, to talk about the company’s goals and plans for the next two years. Here’s the interview.

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Why did you leave Oppo?

The traditional smartphone market is broken. Users have to settle with subpar products created by corporations chasing profits rather than passion.

With the rise of the internet, the world is becoming more and more transparent. Users are becoming smarter. Under these circumstances, companies will increasingly compete on product quality rather than gimmicky features or marketing expenditure. We see room for disruption and also a huge opportunity here.

How will OnePlus differentiate itself in a highly competitive and saturated market?

We won’t differentiate ourselves just to be different. However, we believe we can do better than what’s currently available. We can create something that doesn’t compromise in any regard – including design, build quality, software, specs, and price.

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OnePlus HQ

Why is it so difficult to get great phones from China into Western Markets? 

We are a company that’s born global. Our team consists of people from all over the world, we see the entire world as our playground, and our product will launch in multiple countries simultaneously.

Good products are welcomed everywhere. In Western markets, consumers have more experience with smartphones, allowing them to more intelligently judge what’s good and what’s not.

How difficult is it to get a smartphone conceptualized, designed, fabricated, and then mass produced?

Yes, hardware is very difficult, because it requires large amounts of capital, infrastructure and expertise. Some of our founders have vast experience in creating high quality hardware, which gives us a unique advantage in the marketplace.

On the other hand, it’s a philosophical question. When faced the many pressures and temptations in running a business, do you continue following your ideals, or do you let other factors take precedence?

To create a good product, a company needs both the right experience and the right philosophy.

What pricing strategy do you plan to adopt?

We will create the best product we possibly can first, and figure out sales and marketing second. We never set out to design a product to satisfy a certain price point.

However, because we’ll distribute our products solely via e-commerce, we can cut significant distribution and channel costs. And because our marketing will happen online, we can cut marketing costs. These factors allow us to bring greater value to our customers. We don’t make compromises on our product.

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We want more people to be able to use and share our products, which is why we aren’t expecting to make a profit for two years.

What’s the CM team’s contribution to the phone, besides software? How close do you work with Cyanogen for the phone?

Cyanogen Inc and OnePlus share a lot of the same values. We simply want to create the best products that we possibly can. Both teams work very closely, on both hardware and software.

Does your collaboration with CM extend beyond OnePlus One? What plans do you have for the next few years?

For 2014, we are focusing all of our energy into building and delivering the OnePlus One. Cyanogen Inc is great to work with, and we have lots in common with them. We see plenty of opportunities in the future.

Will OnePlus be using Chinese processors from companies likes MediaTek and Allwinner?

We will only use the best components available to power our devices. Currently, Qualcomm makes the best processors.

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OnePlus’ newly adopted mascot, a Shiba Inu pup. The company is running a contest to name him.

Will OnePlus build phones with 4G?

The OnePlus One supports nine bands of LTE for support in many countries around the world. (Reference: LTE bands 1/3/4/7/17/38/39/40/41)

Will OnePlus build phones (3G or 4G) with right frequencies for Europe? What about the USA?

Yes, to both questions, however in the US without Verizon/Sprint support.

Will OnePlus have service points in Europe and the USA?

Although not in every country we’ll operate in, OnePlus will have select locations around the world servicing our products. Warranty for smartphones is very important for customers, and our goal is to make it as frictionless as possible for them.

Will OnePlus have sales representatives in the Europe and the USA?

We will pursue an online strategy and not have sales reps anywhere in the world.

Will OnePlus sell their devices as SIM unlocked?

Yes, all OnePlus devices will come SIM unlocked.

  • MasterMuffin

    I’m entering to that contest with “Doge”! :D

    • Pretty adorable little guy. I’m more interested in the phones, personally. These are the same guys behind the Find 5 – the 2nd phone in the world to have a 1080p display and tons of other top of the line hardware. I want to see more pressure from ambitious companies pushing great specs and great hardware with up to date software at ever cheaper prices. We’ll be watching them closely.

      • MasterMuffin

        Yea I’m more interested in the phone too, but winning contests is fun (or that’s what I’ve heard!). I’m just one of those guys who think about dev support before even considering buying a device, so I wouldn’t buy this unless it’s the most amazing thing there is. Aaand I’ll keep my Nexus 5 for a long time!

  • Luka Mlinar

    First thing this company did was open a forum and talk to the community; asked them what they wanted. When OPPO did this they made winner. When OPPO stopped doing it and started following the market, they came up with the Find 7. I’m not sure how this Note 2 size standard is gonna work out for everyone but as of now all their (OPPO) premium phones are are going to be phablet form. That’s a recipe for disaster if you ask me. This of course puts OnePlus in an awkward position. If i could give them 1 advice; than it would be to wait and see what happens with the 5.5″ standard. Dennis Wooside showed us how you only get once chance to impress with your first flagship. You can quadruple your worth over night with something like the Find 5. Or slash the price in half of a multibillion dollar company in a years time with the Moto X.

  • RaiDei

    Nice interview. Slightly bummed about the lack of Sprint support, but I saw that coming.

    It’s certainly an interesting sales model, and could work if played right. I think they know that, at first, it’s going to be a very niche device. Going without physical brick-and-mortar shops or even local sales reps will definitely help keep costs down, while still getting the phone out to the people that will show it off.

    Also, while I know the specs are the primary focus, I’m hoping that the design is on par with the tech.

  • Pradeep Viswanathan R

    i would really like to see and feel a device before buying, only e-commerce no stores is going to take sometime to kickoff in my opinion.

    • Kassim

      Personally, I think reviews from sites you know you can trust go a LONG way to alleviating the whole “e-commerce only” issue.

      I mean, I bought my HTC One without ever seeing or touching one in-store!

      I will confess that I did see a work colleagues’ One before I actually bought it but, that hands-on experience only meant I bought it faster (it was always the phone that I was going to get).

      So, if it helps to keep the cost of the device down, then I welcome it with open arms…

      • Pradeep Viswanathan R

        Almost the same story here, i purchased a One MAX without seeing the device in person and this device had initial bad reviews & suggested to go for the Note 3. its was just my trust & belief in HTC that i had acquired over the time + the experience of using the original HTC One for 2 months which made me buy it. Here in this case, i don’t have any, it leaves a lot to be desired before purchasing a phone. Again just my opinion, i have personal tastes which does not always match the reviewers.

  • Groud Frank

    Forgive my scepticism but this sounds way too good to be true; way too good. If they stick to what they says then this company just might be able to say that they make the “perfect” phone.

    • These are some really, really smart people.
      I was a beta tester, and have talked to Carl quite a bit.

    • takpro

      There is no such thing as the perfect phone; just ask any 2 people. ;-)