OnePlus had a great 2016. Last year, the company that made its name Never Settling settled into its groove. It gave us two of the best Android phones of the year at competitive price points and built vital carrier relationships while also catering to its core "unlocked" customer base. And it finally figured out software and OS updates, while steering clear of the bravado and PR blunders that had plagued earlier release cycles.
Countless smartphone hardware startups have fallen by the wayside in the time that OnePlus has existed, making the success of the company in 2016 all the more remarkable. Sure, OnePlus remains a lean organization compared to an HTC or LG, but it isn't really a startup anymore. So where next?
It wasn't long ago that you'd need an invite to buy a OnePlus phone.
From what little we know about the "5" so far, it seems like OnePlus isn't rocking the boat too much. Leaked renders show a 3T-like design with dual cameras. There'll be a fingerprint scanner on the front, which likely means a standard 16:9 display, complete with "forehead and chin" bezels. And of course, a Snapdragon 835 running the show.
That fits the established pattern of OnePlus phones to date. The manufacturer hasn't needed to do anything outlandish with its hardware. Indeed, the "cheaper flagship" space that it's operated so successfully within has restrained it from doing anything too crazy with the chassis or its innards. As a result, OnePlus has remained focused on the core experience of using the phone, and avoided the gimmicks that have ensnared many rivals.
Instead of modular add-ons or 4K screens, the differentiator for OnePlus is the brand itself — community-driven, with fans shaping the direction of OnePlus's software, and being a major part of any new phone launch. And over the past couple of years, OnePlus has been able to successfully scale up this approach, even while forging deals with carriers like O2 and Elisa in Europe.
2017 could be OnePlus's strongest year yet.
Over the next twelve months, OnePlus will need to navigate its "post-startup" phase and grow its business further, but without alienating the early adopters who helped it get where it is. It's likely there'll be more carrier deals in the works, as OnePlus nips at the heels of larger, traditional manufacturers like HTC and Sony. The challenge will be to become more mainstream without losing sight of its enthusiast-driven core. It'll be a tricky balancing act, but if OnePlus can pull it off, there's every chance 2017 could be its strongest year yet.
Other nuggets from a busy week in mobile:
- Huawei unveiled its new MateBook laptops laptops this past week — check out my hands-on preview over on iMore, and take a peek at Daniel Rubino's thoughts on Windows Central. Of the three, the MacBook-esque MateBook X looks to be the most compelling. It's unusual to see a phone (and tablet, and network infrastructure) manufacturer pursuing a slice of the (shrinking) PC market, but Huawei has proven it can produce top-tier hardware here. The new MateBooks may only be launching in six countries, but I suspect we'll see much more from the company in this space in 2018 and beyond.
- The big review of the week was Andrew Martonik's take on the HTC U11, and I agree with most of what he has to say on what is unquestionably HTC's best phone yet — and its most competitive since the One M8. Questions remain around how much this product can move the needle for HTC as it faces off against rivals both nimble and monolithic. As much as Edge Sense is neat, successfully walking the line between gimmickry and utility, and the new chassis design is beautiful, other areas of the experience, like the Sense software itself, and the front ID, look stale.
- I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of Motorola, a company which has existed in various states of flux and transition for the better part of half a decade. The original cellphone manufacturer still has a lot to contribute, and has struck a chord with the battery-focused "Play" series and the near indestructible "Force" line. It's strong internationally with its Moto G line, and still very much present in the U.S. through its dealings with Verizon. And it still has the financial muscle of Lenovo behind it. Don't count out
MotoMotorola just yet.
That about does it for this week. Right now I'm in Taipei, Taiwan ahead of Computex 2017 (with CrackBerry Kevin and friends). Computex is one of Asia's biggest tech shows, promising new phones, PCs, gaming hardware and other surprises. Watch out for our coverage here on AC, as well as Windows Central in the coming week.
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