Carl Pei on OnePlus' new beginnings with the OnePlus Nord

OnePlus 8 Pro
OnePlus 8 Pro (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

OnePlus' recent strategy has been focused on the mid-tier and premium segments, but the manufacturer is all set to unveil an affordable phone in the coming weeks. Dubbed OnePlus Nord, the phone will feature exciting hardware, and if an earlier teaser is any indication, it may start off at just $299.

The flood of teasers over the last two weeks have ignited interest in the phone, and OnePlus is taking a different approach for the launch of its upcoming device, the OnePlus Nord. Instead of the usual teasers on Twitter, the company set up a new Instagram account called OnePlusLiteZThing — a clear reference to early leaks — and it is set to release a four-part documentary series that will give OnePlus fans a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the phone.

The first part in the documentary — called New Beginnings — is now live on Instagram, and OnePlus used this platform to officially reveal the name of the Nord product line. Ahead of its debut, I had a freewheeling conversation with OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei and vice president of OnePlus France Akis Evangelidis to get an insight into OnePlus' plans with the docuseries, and what the brand is doing differently with the Nord.

Evangelidis said that the docuseries is aimed at engaging the community, and like the pop-ups the company organizes to get early feedback on its latest products, it offers a way for the brand to connect directly with its fans:

With this documentary, we wanted to give everyone a closer look at how we being one of our products to market so that they can witness the whole thing from the inside. Traditional marketing doesn't allow customers to experience a phone before it is announced, so this time we wanted our fans to feel like they're a part of the development process.The documentary will be the backbone of the entire pre-launch; with every new part we'll release information about the upcoming product.

Evangelidis says it is this drive to engage the community that sets OnePlus apart in the smartphone industry. Evangelidis talked about how OnePlus went on a tour around Europe following the launch of the OnePlus 3 to give fans in 13 different cities across the continent a first look at the phone, and how the company hosts massive launch events in countries like India featuring thousands of fans so that they get to see the phone before anyone else. Because all of that isn't possible during these social distancing times, OnePlus is turning to a docuseries to engage its community.

OnePlus 8 Pro

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Pei chimed in about how the smartphone industry has changed over the last six years, and how users these days are more involved with brands. Growing up as a tech enthusiast, Pei was never able to get close to any of the consumer tech companies that he followed, and he had to turn to online forums and message boards to discuss his favorite products. He said that one of the main reasons for coming up with the documentary project was to make the community feel closer to OnePlus:

When we started this product line, we looked at how the world is changing. It has been six years since we launched our first phone, and things are not the same as they were back in 2014. One of the key things now is that people want the truth, they want things that are real. They're not interested in big anonymous companies that are unapproachable. They want to know how the sausage is made; they want to go behind-the-scenes and be closer than ever before.In a way, the documentary series is to please my inner child. This is our way to let a new generation of tech enthusiasts get really close to a company, and see how something real is made.

OnePlus' shift to the affordable segment comes at a pivotal time for the industry. With the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, people are increasingly looking toward affordable options when picking up a new phone:

Over the past few years, we've made better and better flagship phones. But we've also heard a section of our community asking for a more affordable product line.The consumers that we've been targeting for the last few years want the best products available, but there's also another portion of the market that wants something great at a more affordable price. For us, that's a new beginning.

When it comes to the development of a phone, OnePlus usually takes nine to 12 months to come up with a new product. This time around, Pei said that the team spent more time on strategy to take into account how the upcoming phone would fit into the affordable segment:

When you're embarking on a new journey, you have to make sure you're on the right path. So even if you rush and find out later that you've been on the wrong path, you have to go back to the starting point. So when we're doing something new, it makes sense to sit down and think a little bit longer about what it is exactly that we want to do.

As for finding the right path, Pei said it has everything to do with experience:

We've been heads-down working on our flagship line for the past couple of years, so when we're doing something new, we have to think about what the world looks like beyond our own category. So we solicit a lot of input, and once we have enough input, we start debating and analyzing that information until a point where we feel that we have something solid.How do we know when we have something solid? It comes from a feeling that's based on experience; when you know you have something ready to go.

OnePlus 7T in its retail packaging

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

One of the interesting points Pei made was around OnePlus' visual identity. Because the Nord is aimed at a different subset of the community, it needs to have its own identity that's differentiated from the brand's flagship devices:

Now that we're doing a new product line with a different target consumer, we need to differentiate between the previous model and this one. It's a balance, because we need to make people understand that it is a OnePlus product — and that it has all the trimmings associated with it — but also make them understand that it's a little bit different so they can immediately associate that it is a new product line.Everything from the packaging to the website, advertising, and community events defines our visual identity. The look and feel of our Instagram account with the OnePlusLiteZThing is the beginning of a slightly different visual identity.

OnePlus is essentially looking to differentiate the Nord product line by giving it a distinct visual identity. Based on what we've seen so far, that includes a different color for the logo — switching out the red for teal — and advertising that's aimed at a younger audience.

To that effect, Evangelidis said that OnePlus will be engaging with the community a little differently for the Nord series, and that the brand has a "world first" coming up in this area. Interestingly, Pei revealed that the docuseries hasn't finished filming yet, and that there is an opportunity for members of the OnePlus community to be featured in later episodes.

OnePlus knows how to build anticipation for an upcoming product — the brand has done a masterful job in this area over the years. With the shift to the affordable segment and the imminent launch of the first phone in a brand-new Nord product line, expectation in what OnePlus will deliver has never been greater. No pressure then.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.