What happens when OnePlus competes on something other than making noise.
Like its two predecessors, the OnePlus 3 offers a lot of phone for not a lot of money. But there's a crucial distinction this year, as arguably the biggest barrier to entry no longer applies — you can purchase a OnePlus 3, from launch day, without an invite. And that's huge for a bunch of reasons, some of them more obvious than others.
Firstly, let's look the positives of the invite system from OnePlus's perspective. As a smaller manufacturer, limiting sales through invites lets it trickle out phones over weeks and months, and avoid immediately selling out or (worse) being left with a bunch of unsold inventory. Supplies can then be adjusted accordingly. Those who persevere and end up with a phone likely are enthusiasts who'll continue to spread the message through word of mouth. And ensuring everyone who wants one can't get one right away helps maintain consumer and press interest over a longer period of time, as outlets and fans spread word of the latest ways to get hold of an invite.
The invite system has done its job. Now it's time to just let people buy the damn phone.
Though undeniably annoying at times, the invite system has done its job. Going into the OnePlus 3 launch, consumers and media know and care about the phone even in the absence of any obnoxious marketing tricks. What's more, the benefit of three release cycles under the invite system has surely allowed OnePlus to more accurately judge demand for its latest phone. And we also shouldn't underestimate the goodwill generated by day-one, invite-free sales among core fans who've dealt with this frustration over the past couple of years.
It's all part of the narrative of OnePlus growing up as a brand. No more apologies for an invite system creaking under the pressure of millions of requests. No more cringey marketing blunders. No more disingenuous claims that this year's phone will somehow kill next year's flagships. No more delaying your product because you couldn't print the CE logo correctly.
Just a really good phone at a really competitive price, with no hoops to jump through.
It also means no more asterisks next to any recommendations to buy the OnePlus 3. In years past we've hesitated to include phones like the OnePlus One and OnePlus 2 in our list of "best" unlocked Android devices, simply because the average buyer shouldn't be expected to deal with these kinds of hurdles. There was also the implication that any direct price comparison was unfair on the competition, because you couldn't just go and buy the phone. Now you can.
The new center of gravity for mainstream high-end Android phones.
That's got to be cause for concern for some competitors. OnePlus isn't playing the carrier game, but consider a company like HTC or LG, selling its flagships unlocked for $150-250 more than OnePlus. You could argue that the HTC 10 or LG G5 are better in some areas than the OnePlus 3, but are they several hundred dollars better? Suddenly, paying full retail for anything but the very best — say, a Galaxy S7 or an iPhone — becomes a really hard to justify. There's a strong case for saying the OnePlus 3 is the kind of phone that'll represent the center of gravity, price-wise, for mainstream high-end Android phones going forwards, leaving Samsung and Apple at the top and budget contenders like the Moto G and Huawei's Honor phones further down the scale.
Also consider the Sony Xperia X Performance, a $700 phone with basically nothing going for it over the $400 OnePlus 3. Sony Mobile US's unlocked, online, direct-to-consumer price structure is so utterly undermined by phones like the OnePlus 3 that it's almost comical.
With its immediate availability and $400 price point, OnePlus also puts the squeeze on unlocked phones around the $300 level — older flagships like the LG G4 and Moto X Pure Edition look much less attractive when for $50-$100 more you can get current specs and superior build quality. Even the affordable Nextbit Robin, with its standard price of $399, looks a little inflated by comparison.
As the U.S. market trends away from carrier subsidies, eventually the established players will have to sit up and take notice of these kinds of handsets. OnePlus might lack the scale of an HTC or a Motorola, but by the same token it also doesn't have an enormous global corporate structure to support. Thus the savings, as they say, are passed onto you.
None of these arguments would be as compelling were OnePlus not letting consumers simply hand over their cash and get their phone. Phone nerds have short attention spans, and if we had to wait a few months to buy the OnePlus 3 unlocked, many of us might have by then moved onto newer and shiner things.
Instead, OnePlus's latest could turn out to be a pivotal device for this fledgeling manufacturer — and a milestone for affordability in a high-end phone.
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