- Since its arrival in the Indian market in 2014, OnePlus has undergone a number of strategic shifts.
- The brand started as a flagship killer in 2014 and ended 2022 with one of the year’s highest-selling budget 5G phones. It also has gone from a two-device portfolio to one that encompasses a number of ranges and price points,
- As 2023 gets underway, OnePlus has released both a proper flagship above Rs 50,000 and a budget phone below Rs 20,000, showing just how far the brand has come in its smartphone journey in India.
Ten years is a long time in technology.
Ten years ago, Nokia was still a smartphone brand to reckon with, Apple did not make Bluetooth earbuds, smartwatches were a rarity, Gionee was the main Chinese brand in India, and Google’s phones were called the Nexus.
So yes, a lot can change in ten years. But even by those standards, what OnePlus has achieved in slightly less than a decade (the brand was founded in late 2013) in the Indian market is staggering. The brand has switched lanes and paths as often and as spectacularly as an auto driver in Delhi traffic. Oh, and just as effective too. For its changes of route yield rich dividends and could lead to even greater things.
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From a flagship killer to a proper flagship
For those who have newly arrived on the tech planet, here’s a quick recap on OnePlus. The brand made a huge splash in 2014 with the first OnePlus phone, offering near flagship level specs (a flagship chip, full HD display, 4G, et al.) at slightly more than mid-segment prices. The phone made the term ‘flagship killer’ a thing, and for a few years, it was a zone OnePlus played in – big specs, low prices. As years passed, however, the brand began to move up the price ladder. It was still far more affordable than flagships from the likes of Samsung, LG, and even Google, but it was now more in the middle ground between mid-segment and premium.
With the OnePlus 7 Pro in 2019, OnePlus finally got into the zone of the very flagships it was killing. The OnePlus 7 Pro was an unabashedly premium device and came at a price that was more than double of the first OnePlus. While the brand also came out with non-Pro variants that were more affordable, OnePlus seemed to have now stepped into the premium phone zone. To its credit, although many traditional OnePlus fans cried foul, it did well in the premium segment, emerging as one of India’s top premium smartphone brands, even outperforming the likes of Apple and Samsung in some quarters.
Creating a premium mid-segment
Going from being a flagship killer to a proper flagship in a little more than five years would have been quite an achievement in itself, but in 2020, OnePlus turned over a new leaf once again. Or rather, added a new page to its book. This was the year in which it launched the Nord, a device that was half the price of its flagship OnePlus 8 Pro and was priced a bit more than conventional mid-segment devices. And just as it had invented the ‘flagship killer’ moniker, OnePlus now came up with a whole new segment, one that was well below the premium segment but just above the conventional mid-segment. OnePlus called it called the ‘premium mid-segment and positioned the Nord as its flagship in that zone.
The Nord was very skilfully marketed by a still-at-OnePlus Carl Pei. To many, it represented a sort of return to OnePlus’ perceived core values of good specs and smooth performance at an affordable price. By all accounts, the phone did very well in the Indian market. OnePlus now had phones in premium as well as premium mid-segment zones.
The next year saw OnePlus add a further twist to its product portfolio. While it continued with the Pro range, it also released a slightly more affordable device in its premium range, which it christened the R series, ostensibly targeted at gaming.
Similarly, the brand also introduced a new range in the Nord series, the Nord CE (CE standing for ‘Core Edition’). These phones were lower specced but even lower priced than the Nord, which continued on its own merry path with the Nord 2. It was fascinating to note that by the end of 2021, OnePlus’ new phone portfolio was suddenly encompassing a rather wide price segment:
- OnePlus Nord CE: Rs 22,999 onwards
- OnePlus Nord 2: Rs 27,999 onwards
- OnePlus 9R: Rs 39,999 onwards
- OnePlus 9: Rs 49,999 onwards
- OnePlus 9 Pro: Rs 64,999 onwards
The brand was still very much inclined towards the premium mid-segment and the premium segment. This seemed confirmed when the brand launched the OnePlus 9RT at the beginning of 2022 at a price of Rs 42,999.
Going mainstream with a lite core experience
That changed totally in the months that followed. OnePlus launched a premium OnePlus 10 Pro model at a price of Rs 66,999, but there was no plain 10 accompanying it – the first time in OnePlus’ history that the brand had no suffix-less flagship. Instead, it later launched the OnePlus 10R at Rs 38,999, a lower price than its predecessor.
Indeed, it seemed as if the brand had shifted its emphasis to lower price points as it launched three more devices below Rs 30,000 – the OnePlus Nord CE 2, the OnePlus Nord 2T, and interestingly, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, which became the first? OnePlus phone to be priced below Rs 20,000 since the original OnePlus launched in 2014!
OnePlus rounded off the year by launching the OnePlus 10T, and it was actually priced at the same price as the OnePlus 9 – Rs 49,999. As 2022 drew to a close, OnePlus’ releases in the year had been:
- OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite: Rs 19,999 onwards
- One Plus Nord CE 2: Rs 23,999 onwards
- OnePlus Nord 2T: Rs 28,999 onwards
- OnePlus 10R: Rs 38,999 onwards
- OnePlus 9RT: Rs 42,999 onwards
- OnePlus 10T: Rs 49,999 onwards
- OnePlus 10 Pro: Rs 66,999 onwards
Suddenly, OnePlus had more phones below Rs 40,000 than the brand had above it. And once again, the move paid rich dividends in spite of attracting a lot of criticism from the OnePlus loyalists, who were also upset with the brand’s decision to enter a partnership with Oppo earlier in the year. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite actually ended up being the highest-selling 5G phone in India below Rs 20,000, beating off competition from Redmi, Realme, and Samsung. It was also noticeable that OnePlus’ emphasis was shifting to a more mainstream user base.
What’s next? Never Settle for a routine answer
2023 has seen this trend continue.
After dropping the suffixless OnePlus in 2022, the brand dropped the Pro version, releasing a plain OnePlus 11 at Rs 56,999, the first time its flagship had come with a lower price tag than its predecessor for a long time. It followed this up with the OnePlus 11R at Rs 39,999, which was seen as a super competitive price given the increase in the price of components, which was driving prices of smartphones north anyway. And at the time of writing, OnePlus had also released the successor of the bestselling OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite, at exactly the same price of Rs 19,999 but with more features, most notably more RAM, a better camera, and faster charging.
A OnePlus Nord CE 3 and OnePlus Nord 3 are expected in the next few months, further consolidating the brand’s presence in the sub-Rs 30,000 zone. And yes, if the rumor is to be believed, there is even a good chance that OnePlus will release a 5G phone for under Rs 15,000 before the year is out – though what it will be called is anyone’s guess.
Switching price lanes so frequently is no mean task, especially when one has not started out with a wide portfolio. OnePlus began with a single device and today stands with about six streams of devices – the OnePlus Plain, the OnePlus Pro, the OnePlus R, the OnePlus Nord CE, the OnePlus Nord CE Lite, and the OnePlus Nord. And this does not include the occasional T variants we see from time to time.
What’s more, most of them seem to have done well – as per Counterpoint, OnePlus grew 50 percent year on year in 2022 at a time when other brands (except Apple) were registering slowdowns in India. It had the highest-selling 5G phone in the sub-Rs 20,000 segment which helped it capture the second spot in the ‘affordable premium market’ with a 22 percent share. It occupied a very creditable third place in the premium segment behind Apple and Samsung. All of which is quite a staggering achievement for a brand which had started out nine years ago as a flagship killer.
As we said, it has been like an auto journey in peak Delhi traffic, utterly unpredictable, with crazy lane and route changes, with little respect for conventions and others on the road. It is a crazy ride, and it is being accompanied by curses from both competitors and loyalists, but it is still proceeding. And has not yet reached its destination. Stay tuned for more twists, turns, roundabouts, shortcuts, and even U-turns. For the one thing we can safely say about this brand is that it will Never Settle.
(Akriti Rana contributed to this story)