Bengaluru: OnePlus, the Chinese smartphone maker, has undoubtedly made a dent in India’s small but growing market for premium smartphones, both in terms of market share and customer loyalty. Still, the Shenzen-based company’s co-founder Carl Pei rates his phones as just 3 out of 10 and says OnePlus has a long way to go in terms of everything from the product to services and marketing. When it comes to product marketing, Pei’s benchmark is every global premium smartphone maker’s biggest rival—Apple.

He expects the Indian premium smartphone market to expand slowly in the near term and conceded that growth in India over the next couple of years will largely come from market share gains rather than overall market expansion. But Pei said the company will continue to invest big in the country given its long-term potential.

Pei rates Apple creator Steve Jobs’ introduction of the first iPhone, the first phone to feature a full touchscreen, to consumers as 10 on 10 in terms of product marketing. “If that’s a 10 then we are probably a 3 at this point. In every domain you can find the best of best and benchmark yourself against those, and see that you have a big gap. I’m not saying that our teams are not doing a good job, but if you want to be the best, there’s still a long way to go," said Pei, who has recently taken a step back from day-to-day operations globally to focus on branding.

The company has already managed to carve out a large portion of the Indian premium market for itself. OnePlus captured 30% of the premium smartphone segment and led the segment for the second consecutive quarter in Q3 driven by strong demand for its OnePlus 6 phones, according to data from Counterpoint Research.

On Monday, the company is launching its latest flagship, OnePlus 6T. Over the next year, OnePlus, which currently generates most of its sales from Amazon, will also open more offline stores to push its products and let potential new users try its products.

OnePlus 6T was launched in New York on Monday at $549. It’s India launch will take place today. Photo: HT
OnePlus 6T was launched in New York on Monday at $549. It’s India launch will take place today. Photo: HT

“A lot of people question us on what we are doing in India saying there’s only a small percentage of Indians who can purchase a premium flagship phone. For us, it’s always about the long term and it’s perfectly fine to forgo short-term opportunities. The premium segment is quite small in India, but the truth is also that the economy is growing quickly. People’s living standards are being brought up, and when that happens they upgrade their purchasing behaviour," Pei said.

By short-term opportunities, he is referring to the “temptation" of creating a cheaper smartphone priced in the 10,000-15,000 range in India. But while that will fetch the company more volumes, Pei believes it would be detrimental in the long run. It would also risk alienating OnePlus’ core community, which is critical to its user acquisition and success.

Premium smartphone shipments reached an all-time peak during Q3 2018, Counterpoint data showed. Data on the previous quarter from International Data Corp. corroborated that trend. India’s premium smartphone segment grew almost two times year-over-year due to continued strong shipments of Samsung Galaxy S9 series and OnePlus 6, IDC wrote in its Q2 report in August.

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