Smartwatches have had a pretty rocky existence since arriving in full force back at Google I/O 2014. Despite the immaturity of Android Wear, it seemed like every smartphone company – with the exception of HTC, which still hasn’t released a smartwatch – instantly had a wearable on the most mobile of mobile platforms. And before Android Wear we had Pebble, but even that stalwart of the wearable market is falling on tough times. So it may come as no surprise that OnePlus had plans for a smartwatch last year but decided to walk away from it.
OnePlus didn’t only have plans for a smartwatch, it actually had a smartwatch, but felt forced not to go into production. OnePlus CEO, Pete Lau, revealed at the Converge conference in Hong Kong today that “we had completed the design but we still decided to scrap it. We have to be focused.” It was a matter of survival of the fittest, and adding a possibly weak “me too” product into the otherwise strong OnePlus lineup would expose the company to what Lau described as a “cruel market”.
“There is no bottom line at all,” Lau told attendees. “To use a Chinese saying, it’s like Chinese smartphone makers are competing to see who can take their pants off first.” The intense competition in China, non-existent bottom line for profit and plateauing domestic smartphone market means that every move is critical. According to Lau, OnePlus has built a niche following in the high-end smartphone market and needs to focus on that pocket of the market rather in order to weather the impending storm rather than try to expand into other territories.
We had completed the design but we still decided to scrap it. We have to be focused.
Lau believes this focused strategy will be sufficient to see OnePlus emerge on the other side as one of a smaller field of competitors, with others falling by the wayside as times get tougher. OnePlus’ presence in the U.S. market is certainly one of OnePlus’ primary strengths, but the product strategy that has gotten OnePlus this far has been centered on doing one thing well. When things calm down in the Chinese market we may well see a smartwatch release from OnePlus, but that might not be for years yet.
Despite China representing the world’s largest smartphone market and Xiaomi recently achieving the highest-ever domestic market share for a Chinese company, the Chinese market, like smartphone markets the world over, is slowing down. Chinese domestic shipments dropped from 62.5% in 2013 to just 2.5% last year, according to research firm IDC. The tremendous success of Xiaomi and Huawei has led many newcomers to attempt to replicate their success, threatening the livelihood of all.
There is no bottom line at all. It is a very cruel market.
So while other large markets like India, South America, Europe and North America might be the saving grace for several Chinese OEMs, those that fail to appeal to audiences outside China may not be there in a couple of years. Lau believes as China’s smartphone market matures, it will be able to sustain many different companies based on different consumer group preferences. But to be sure it is one of those companies, OnePlus won’t be releasing a smartwatch anytime soon.
Would you like to see a OnePlus smartwatch? What do you think of wearables generally?