At a time when selling premium smartphones to customers seemed an uphill climb with the pandemic impacting disposable incomes of people across the world, OnePlus says its new high-end OnePlus 9 series will not only impress its loyal fans but also help the brand tap new users in India, its biggest and most crucial market.
“Consumers are not only looking at power-packed performance, but also want a no-compromise device,” Navnit Nakra, Vice-President & Chief Strategy Officer, OnePlus India, tells Indianexpress.com in an interview ahead of the global debut of the OnePlus 9 series.
Nakra said OnePlus’ philosophy of understanding what the community wants hasn’t changed and with every new flagship release, the brand tries to improve its smartphones. “So for those consumers who really want the best product in terms of specs, design, performance, and everything that a flagship phone can give in terms of an all-encompassing experience, I think OnePlus 9 is that full experience flagship phone,” he said.
During a digital-only event, OnePlus introduced three smartphones in the OnePlus 9 series, alongside its first smartwatch. All three phones — OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9R — are aimed at a diverse customer base with different price points. Nakra says having three new premium devices will expand the segment for high-end phones in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market.
While many say premium smartphones have become boring and there is no scope for further improvement other than beefing up the hardware, Nakra points out that the OnePlus 9 series come with improved camera systems. OnePlus smartphones have always been praised for their specifications and the uncluttered OxygenOS. However, the camera is one part where OnePlus phones can’t beat the iPhone or Pixel devices. The new partnership with Hasselblad, the Swedish-based luxury-camera maker, is aimed at addressing those concerns.
“One feedback which will always come is the OnePlus camera module is good but can we improve the colour reproduction and enhance the colour performance in our cameras, and hence for the OnePlus 9 we collaborated with Hasselblad to create what is called the Hasselblad camera for mobile, to deliver aesthetic, high quality and honestly unparalleled colour reproduction for future mobile imaging,” he says, explaining what the Hasselblad name on the OnePlus 9 signifies.
OnePlus plans to invest more than $150 million over the next three years to improve the imaging capabilities on its smartphones. “With the Hasselblad, not only are we working on high-quality imaging, but also working on creating a better colour calibration,” he says, adding that “there’s a lot of work which is happening around software and new camera modules and how to integrate with the hardware.”
“The OnePlus brand has really invested a lot of effort and assets and explained to consumers what a great flagship device is and a lot of that messaging has gone to not only first users of premium brand smartphones but also existing users,” he says.
Both the OnePlus 9 Pro and the OnePlus 9 sit on the top-end of the market and are aimed at power adapters, whereas the OnePlus 9R is pitched as an “accessible flagship” smartphone. OnePlus is promising faster performance, better high refresh displays and connectivity to 5G networks on its new smartphones.
The launch of the OnePlus 9R, which will be exclusive to India and the most affordable among the three smartphones, is what many expect OnePlus’ response to the growing competition in the mid-range segment, especially from Samsung in recent months.
OnePlus has used this strategy of having a mid-range smartphone before and the brand succeeded to some extent with the OnePlus Nord. Although the OnePlus 9R won’t replace the OnePlus Nord, Narka says the idea is to have a smartphone at a more affordable price point but still have all the premium features the brand is known for delivering in its flagship phone. OnePlus 9R, according to Nakra, is designed for those who are active in mobile gaming.
“I would say the OnePlus 9R is the best in a class flagship phone, which is being launched exclusively for India. “It’s going to come at a slightly more affordable price point compared to the OnePlus 9 or the super flagship phone [OnePlus 9 Pro].”
“The OnePlus 9R is not replacing the Nord, it will continue to be in our flagship portfolio,” confirms Nakra.
Nakra, who was previously with Apple as head of affordability in India, says as OnePlus’ portfolio of products keeps increasing the emphasis is clearly on how to make its products more accessible to users. For Nakra, the priority is to not only expand the brand’s online visibility but also to ink partnerships with major offline retailers – especially mid-tier ones – across the country, where players like Apple and Samsung have a lead.
He admits the brand was too focused on tapping the customers in top cities of India, and although it helped OnePlus to become a known brand in the premium smartphone space, Nakra says from now on the emphasis will be on how to reach out to a customer in India’s hinterland who will be willing to buy an OnePlus smartphone or its other products. “I think consumers will figure out what price point suits them, and in all honesty, what value it delivers to them,” he said.
The positioning of OnePlus as an aspirational brand will be the key focus, but at the same time, Nakra and his team want to reach out to consumers in tier-2 and tier-3 cities of India with premium mid-range offerings. OnePlus has had success with the OnePlus Nord and a range of smart TVs in those markets in the past. Nakra says OnePlus will continue to bring more products in that segment but like its peers, the brand too aspires to create an ecosystem of products.
OnePlus is clearly looking to replicate the success beyond smartphones. Customers are more likely to know about OnePlus if the brand dabbles into new product categories, something Nakra agrees. Earlier this year, OnePlus debuted its first wearable device which is a budget fitness tracker that retails for Rs 2499. Now, the company is bringing its first smartphone to the market. The OnePlus Watch, which will take on similar smartwatches from Xiaomi and Amazfit, has the circular look and offers features like heart-rate monitoring, sleep tracking, IP68 dust and water resistance. Interestingly, the watch can be used to control the OnePlus TV. A limited-edition OnePlus Watch with a cobalt alloy case in gold will also be made available in the market, in addition to the standard model.
“The idea to bring it at a very interesting price point, which allows a very large spectrum of our community users to go for their first watch, maybe upgrade some of the watches that they’ve been using,” Nakra explains.
But OnePlus has bigger plans to expand the ecosystem of devices in the future. “We will look at products for the smart office and hopefully somewhere in the near future look at devices for the smart car,” Nakra said while giving a hint at how the next-generation of OnePlus products will be a part of an ever-growing ecosystem making it harder for consumers to switch out of it.