Inside the Rise of OnePlus

Early days & marketing strategy

The first phone that OnePlus produced was the OnePlus One. It came with CyanogenOS, which was based on Google’s Android operating system. Cyanogen Inc. created it as OnePlus didn’t make its software. Both companies had also agreed to use another custom version, CyanogenMod, on the OnePlus phones.

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Image: OnePlus

Basically, CyanogenOS was the commercial version of CyanogenMod. The Mod variant was open-source and community-developed. It offered more features and customization options than the stock Android version.

OnePlus One had 3GB RAM, and 16 to 32GB ROM, among other specifications considered to be standard back in 2014. Going by today’s innovations, they’re low. These days, the base RAM is 4GB. You’ll also find that even 64GB to 128GB storage easily fills up with the variety of activities you can do on your phone today. 

In the early months, OnePlus positioned itself as a unique and independent brand. They even marketed under the slogan “Never Settle”, offering phones that were way cheaper than other brands. The OnePlus One cost $350 and was half the price of the Samsung Galaxy S5, which was released in the same year. This strategy attracted many consumers.    

The Oppo controversy

OnePlus wasn’t as independent as we were initially made to believe. The following year after their establishment, they were hit with a major controversy. Chinese public records revealed that Chinese smartphone maker, Oppo Mobile, was OnePlus’s parent company (shocking!).

Pete Lau addressed the situation in an email to Gizchina, admitting that both OnePlus and Oppo shared investors. He tried to explain the financial connection between the companies.

We understand the confusion as many people are just finding out about OnePlus. But as we’ve said from the beginning, OnePlus is a separately run company that does share common investors with OPPO.

One of those investors is OPPO Electronic. OPPO Electronic is an investment company and is not the same as OPPO Mobile. OnePlus is also in talks with other investors.

Pete Lau, OnePlus Co-founder

Despite Lau’s assurance, some fans still felt betrayed, and for good reason. OnePlus emphasized being a separate company from the start. It may not be a big deal because companies forming subsidiaries is common practice. 

Oppo outrightly owning OnePlus isn’t anything new and there are legitimate reasons for doing so. Sharing resources for cost saving is one. Market segmentation is another. Oppo might focus on a broader range of features at various price points, while OnePlus could maintain a focus on high-performance flagships. Yet keeping their connection a secret raises many questions. 

For example, what is the long-term vision for the OnePlus brand under Oppo’s ownership? And if they could downplay the ownership structure this much, what other aspects of the company’s operations are they keeping secret?

Expansion & continuous growth

OnePlus moved past the Oppo controversy and continued to grow into Southeast Asia in 2015. The brand launched the budget-friendly OnePlus X and the OxygenOS that same year. But in 2016, they stopped selling phones in Indonesia because of regulations that made it difficult to sell their OnePlus 2 smartphone with 4G connectivity.

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Image: OnePlus

OnePlus entered the accessory market with the Bullets Wireless Headphones in May 2018. They also ventured into smart TVs, starting with the OnePlus TV Q1. However, they released it exclusively in India in September 2019. In 2020, they released the OnePlus Buds and the first Nord phone since 2015’s OnePlus X. Carl Pei then resigned as marketing director. 

In 2021, OnePlus and Oppo officially began a partnership, merging their hardware research teams in January. There were plans to merge OxygenOS with Oppo’s ColorOS. But following uproars from their user community, they decided to build both operating systems on the same codebase while keeping their UIs separate.

OnePlus is still evolving

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Image: OnePlus

In recent years, OnePlus has launched numerous smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices globally. Their phone collection ranges from powerful flagships like the OnePlus 12, and the more affordable Nord Series. They just launched the Nord CE4 smartphone in April, and it’s a dreamboat. 

Only two tablets exist within the brand; the OnePlus Pad and the OnePlus Pad Go. But the Pad 2 is rumored to come out in the second half of this year. As for their wearables, you’ll find the OnePlus Bullets Wireless, the Buds, the Band, and the Watch. As time passes, we’ll get to see more impressive releases from the company.

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