OnePlus held a fan gathering in Helsinki, Finland on 15th of May. MobileTechTalk was there and we posted article about it here. We also got a chance to interview the OnePlus staff before the actual event.
Date: Sunday 15th of May, 2016
Place: Beer House Villi Wäinö, Helsinki
OnePlus: The Interview
We were joined by Juha Rytkönen, the Head of Business Development for Europe and David Sanmartin Garcia who is the head of marketing for Europe.
Q1: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk to you. Could you introduce yourselves and tell us what you do and about your background
Juha: I’m Juha Rytkönen, and I am currently heading the business development for Europe. I started at OnePlus a month ago, so I am the new guy here. Before I came to OnePlus I was at Microsoft heading the APAC product marketing partnerships. And before that I was a Director of global product marketing partnerships in Nokia.
David: My name is David Sanmartin and I am from Spain. I am currently heading the european team of OnePlus and especially the marketing team. We are based out of London. I have been in OnePlus from the beginning. Before that I was working in e-commerce and also blogging about technology in Spain. The e-commerce company was based in China and at the same time I was blogging (from China) to a Spanish blog.
Q2: When you look back few years when the OnePlus One launched, how have things evolved and how has the company changed in these few years
David: So the company has definitely changed a lot. It has grown in size. When we were working on the launch of the OnePlus One, we were actually working 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. Month before the launch we worked 7 days a week and 12 hours per day. The marketing team at that moment had only three people, so the days were long because we wanted to be totally ready for the launch.
And when looking at our forums at that time there were very few people posting but while the OnePlus One launch event was happening in Beijing it kind of exploded in all social medias including our forums. It was really surprising as we were really confident on the product (OnePlus One) but we never thought it would get as big as it got so fast.
We are still small company even though we are growing all the time, we are trying to build a real structure inside the company. It has been pretty much fail-try again kind of mentality for now but it’s getting better and better with time.
Q3: How do you think the OnePlus One device changed the landscape of flagship phone launches?
David: I think that is true and we can see some changes happening. We can definitely see other companies bringing cheaper price point products to the market. The main problem with those are that they usually do compromises in certain things, like having their own processor which might not be up to par with Qualcomm’s high-end ones which we have always used and so on.
Q4: Are you seeing a clear change how other manufacturers are doing things because what you have archived and done?
David: I think there are instances that try to change their workings after us. One thing especially with OnePlus is the community, which hard to replicate. You can’t kind of force it to happen, it has to come from the people. It’s definitely one of the unique things that OnePlus did and it is really hard to try to replicate that
Juha: In a way, when OnePlus came, that was kind of organic thing that happened when it comes to the community so it came from the people, the users, and that is really hard to replicate. And if you just try to forcefully build it, it will surely fail.
Q5: Who do you see your main competitors? Are you trying to compete more with likes of Apple or Samsung, or is your target Xiaomi, Meizu and other smaller companies?
David: We see ourselves competing against the big players.
Q6: You announced the partnership with Elisa on Thursday 12th of May, which is the reason why we are here today. Is this a new strategy for OnePlus and how things got started.
David: So it was actually them that contacted us. I think Elisa saw us a little bit different kind of company, like being more friendly and ‘fresh’ than others. We have always been reluctant to go with 3rd parties with distribution and selling our devices, as they usually increase the price. And that goes against our values. With Elisa and how things work in Finland it seems things are very different. Elisa didn’t ask any apps to be installed, they didn’t want to lock it and they sell it with or without contract. They also provide instalment plans (with 0% interest on it). All in all everything seemed to be a win-win situation for OnePlus so we decided to go with it.
Juha: And one thing was when we were discussing with Elisa that they already saw from their network customers that they have a lot of OnePlus users. I also think that might be the main thing that originated the want to offer the phones to their customers.
David: I also think what is helping is that Finland is pretty technology-forward country and Finland is the top country in Europe when comparing the OnePlus user base to countries population.
Q7: Talking about the warranty part. How is it going to work with customers who bought their phone from Elisa?
David: We are still looking what is the best way to move forward with Elisa with this. For now it works very similar if you would buy the phone from Oneplus. By your laws you have 15days to return the device and get your money back with no questions asked. Also during the first 15days if you have a faulty device it will replaced in the store. After that user can go to Oneplus’ website and go through our customer support. The customer support has already been trained and they know that Elisa is also selling the devices. Of course we are always trying to find ways broaden the customer supports reach.
Q8: David, you mentioned in your own forums that Finland is little bit different when compared to other European countries. How is the difference showing to you and what do you mean by that?
David: In Finland there are few big ‘famous’ technology specialised stores like Gigantti and Expert for example. Stores like these are probably selling more devices here versus the markets in United Kingdom. In UK there are supermarkets (like Tesco etc) that sell phones, then there are few specialised stores like a Carphone Warehouse. Most of the phone sales still go through the operators where they are offering subsidised phones but they don’t have so many options compared what is available here.
The differences in countries in Europe is of course important but the place where you see this the most is the US. I think, rarely anyone would buy an unlocked phone from retail store like Best Buy. Most of the phone sales go through the operators. I would also say that people understand that if you buy a phone from a operator with a two year contract, after the two years you have paid a lot more. It is lot more easy for OnePlus to enter European markets where people understand the aspect that you don’t need to get a phone with a contract that ends costing you more.
Juha: I can add one thing to that, the Finnish mentality. These kind of bundles where the phone comes with two year contract were illegal for a long time in Finland and Finnish people were used to buy the phone from a store and then just choose what operator ever they wanted. When these bundles were legalised it was met with a lot of negativity. People realised that if I buy the phone here, I am locked to these guys for two years and I can’t unlock the phone or change the operator. We are little stubborn in that way, and that is something that is unique to Finland.
Q9: Are you open for other opportunities with other carriers, maybe not in Finland but in Europe as a whole?
David: I think if the opportunity presents itself and we feel it would benefit the end users, we are of course open for it. If we feel it doesn’t help our users it won’t happen. It’s not just about the price argument, there are a lot of other aspects we value.
Q10: You have used the invites system for couple of year with your phone launches. Are we going to see something different this year?
David: What we are able to comment is that for OnePlus 2 and X you don’t need an invite anymore. You can also go through Elisa or Saunalahti to buy a device.
Q11: Talking about Android, how are you seeing the development of Android going as a whole. Have you seen something changing from Googles side and how are your views on Android as a whole?
David: We have seen lot of improvements since Lollipop. We are basically in a state when we have a very functional base which also looks good. I think need for skinning and adding extra apps is going away because there is no real reason for it. I think we are on the top on those things. There are few other companies that do it well, like of course google with its nexus line and the previous Motorola phones have been good in software standpoint. But we are definitely seeing more emphasis on functionality and design of the operating system.
Our standpoint in software has always been to be a really close to stock android. We just add few minor tweaks that we think make the software experience better.
Q12: You switched to your in-house built ROM called OxygenOS with the OnePlus 2. How did the change affect your operations now that you will build your own OS for your devices?
David: It’s been challenging to be fair. Our software team has been working really hard to actually produce frequent updates to the OS. The main focus has been on stability and I think we have been successful on that part, especially with the new OxygenOS3 (based on Marshmallow) update which is at Community build stage at the moment. We have also successfully improved the performance on it. For example the fingerprint sensor is now working flawlessly.
Q13: How do you see the OS part of the device in future. Do you think the “close to stock Android” way is the new way other OEMs are going?
Juha: My previous jobs, before Oneplus, it was pretty clearly shown in consumer feedback that lot of the apps you think are useful are labeled as bloatware/malware with users. If you don’t allow the user to completely remove those apps it becomes a negative thing for the consumer. And I think that is kind of a trend moving forward, for example Nokia/Lumia devices were full of extra apps, Samsung was well-known for extra apps. People were reacting to these kind of things and were “I want to delete these things”. So that kind of showed the whole industry that you can’t preload so much extra apps to devices.
Q14: Lets talk about other product segments for a bit. How do you see the wearable market and are you interested on the growing market of wearables?
David: About a year ago we were actually developing our own smartband. But we decided to stop the project for a one simple reason, we are young company, we have a lot of room to grow but before we venture to other segments we want to nail the phone part to perfection first. When we have the ‘perfect’ phones, we go to the next step.
Q15: In continuity to the previous question, what are your thoughts about the future, will devices go more to the modular aspect where other devices might complete the phone?
David: The future in technology is really interesting, but it is really hard to predict. We see wearables coming to a bigger role, but to be honest I am not sure if it will last. I have a Moto 360 and had a pebble before that, and nowadays I am not wearing them. I think wearable technology is not there yet to make us not depend on the actual device/phone.
Juha: I think, one thing that will change a lot is what role does your device play, what is the role of the operators. Mostly the role of the handheld device will probably see some changes when VR and augmented reality comes.
Q16: You released two phones, the Oneplus 2 and OnePlus X, last year. They are pretty different devices from each other. How do you see the differences, and who are they marketed for?
David: The X is mainly for people who care about design more than the specs. The audience is pretty much different from our core audience (OP and OP2). I would say the X has been a great device and we have gotten a lot of positive feedback for it. People like the design and build quality. OnePlus 2 is the flagship and we give you the best device we can considering specs, performance, battery life and so on.
Q17: What are your biggest challenges to this year? What are the things you are focused to make better?
David: There are few key things that are important to us. The first is customer support. We recently partnered with three different repair companies here in Europe, so you can get your devices serviced a lot faster. We are also planning to have different languages for customer support. In sometime near future we also plan to open at least one service centre somewhere in Europe. We will start testing phase on this soon.
Q18: The last question: When the Oneplus 2 launched there was a little criticism coming from developers as the 2 wasn’t so open to hacking/modding as the One was. Are you improving this for future devices and are you working more closely with developers on this front?
David: We got a lot of feedback about it. And we know our core audience is in the very hight tech portion of users. This is something we think is very important and we are working on this making it better for the future devices.
We like to thank you Oneplus, and especially Juha and David, for taking the time to answer the questions.