Update: The Strange Moves and Big Mistakes of Oneplus’ Debut


By all measures, OnePlus is doing alright for a brand new startup about to launch their first phone. They were doing phenomenally until about a week ago when a series of leaks and controversies mired what is still a highly anticipated launch.

Still, the employees at OnePlus are probably fairly busy right now, putting out virtual fires or whatever it is manufacturers do when things go wrong.

So what did OnePlus do wrong? How did they go from the darlings of Chinese tech world to arguably its most controversial in about a week, before its first product even launched? How have they managed to burn through so much goodwill so quickly?

First, lets talk about how they got to a point where them messing up their launch is a major story. You could say that, to a certain extent OnePlus has been a victim of their own success.

Hype, Leaks and an Unfortunate Familiarity

China is full of big name tech companies. OnePlus certainly had some big name recognition, being created by former Oppo Executives, but it still managed to get an inordinate amount of attention. Their advertisements seemed to resonate with the average fan of Chinese tech, vague as they were. Its #NeverSettle slogan seemed rebellious and pointed towards a future of innovation and a more international approach to launches.

Unfortunately, hype is a double edged sword. When leaks of the OnePlus One started coming out and the device looked quite a bit like Oppo’s Find 7, the tower of hype they had built fell back on them.

Which brings us to said leaks. Had OnePlus managed to launch their product while it was still surrounded in mystery, they could have controlled the narrative a lot more. They could have shown us what makes it different than Oppo’s device. I don’t personally know what makes the OnePlus One unique. If I did, I assure you, I would tell you. The point is, if anything is drastically unique about the phone, other than its slight customization of Cyanogenmod and recent leaks of proprietary battery technology, OnePlus lost its opportunity to lay that out for us themselves while we have a blank slate in our minds. Now, whatever happens on April 23rd, everyone in the audience has a preconception that the OnePlus One is directly derived from the Find 7, that is a problem.

Worse still, the “leaks” appear to be coming from the Chinese division of the company themselves. Showing a possible skism developing within the two branches of the young company.

If the big difference is the software, the custom version of Cyanogenmod, well first thing, that would be disappointing, but OnePlus never got to lay out its argument on why that is important, and that is completely its own fault.

The Appearance of Arrogance and Free Stuff Gone Wrong

Then there is, of course, the invite debacle.  While the OnePlus is undoubtedly popular for what it is, the fact is, it still is a brand new company launching its first phone. In this case, the road to hell seems to be paved with good intentions. OnePlus seemed to be realizing that its manufacturing capabilities are not yet prepared to meet the expected demand. An invite system could seem like a reasonable way to prevent a situation where people who ordered their phones are waiting months to get one.

What it ended up appearing to be was an arrogant move where a company has to deem you worthy of it taking your money. Such a strategy might work for a company like Google, but it left a sour taste in the mouth of fans of OnePlus. OnePlus would have probably been better off having a limited number of presale units, and letting it sell out quickly. That isn’t the end of OnePlus’ missteps, however.

With OnePlus Ones already in short supply compared to its expected demand, OnePlus came up with an idea that probably seemed fantastic in a meeting room somewhere: Host a contest that rewards its most loyal fans, the ones that make up its community message board. Sight unseen, it seemed refreshing. Rather than opening it up to any Twitter or Facebook user that wants to win a “weird” new cell phone, the message board contest rewarded those that have been following OnePlus since the beginning.

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While the Chinese language forum had QR codes to give forum members access to the contest without broadcasting all over Weibo, the English version of the forum  relied on a number of posts being hit in a particular thread on the forum. Winners at the 5,001 post, 10,000th post and 50,000 post would win a OnePlus One (plus minor prizes for other posts).

What happened next is open to some debate.

[Update: A previous version of this post stated that OnePlus deleted a complaint thread, they instead merged the posts onto another topic. The post has been updated with the necessary corrections]

According to OnePlus’ version of the events, Multiple posts started showing up as the winning posts as the backend of OnePlus’ board couldn’t handle the high volume of posts.

OnePlus recalculated the posts, adding posts that were deleted before OnePlus disabled deleting within the thread and completely screwing up the count. Suddenly people who had thought they had won for days found out that they had not won anything afterall.

This understandably led to hurt feelings and accusations of cheating. It is hard to figure out exactly what happened here. One user got in contact with us with screens of his winning post that was moved 72 posts down the line, the same is said to have happened to the poster of the 10,000th poster as well. The current winner of the 10,000th post doesn’t even seem to be aware that he or she has won.

Unless it is the most sophisticated piece of vaporware in history, it seems unlikely that OnePlus would purposefully ruin its promotion to scam the internet out of three of the phones they themselves are creating, but that hardly matters. Their refusal to reward the previous winners as well has built up an extremely large amount of bad will among the community.

But the blunders didn’t stop there. OnePlus moved the posts into an older topic, breaking links to the complaints and creating an perception of censorship, even if that wasn’t the desired action.

I’ve never seen a company screw up giving away a product so badly.

I have reached out to OnePlus asking for a statement on the giveaway, but have yet to hear back.

The winners of the contest will be “officially” announced after the phone’s reveal. So OnePlus still has a chance to make this right, but by shuffling their feet they are only hurting themselves.

Where Does OnePlus Go From Here?

The OnePlus One is still in a fairly favorable position, all things considered.  Sure, there has been significant backlash to these very serious missteps. It might even be enough to negatively impact sales, but OnePlus still has our attention. In business, infamy is better than anonymity. If the OnePlus One launches on the 23rd with some killer, yet unannounced feature, then many of the mistakes of the past few weeks will be forgiven.

On the other hand, if the leaks have shown everything OnePlus has in its hands, or worse yet, OnePlus under delivers, then OnePlus still sits as a cheaper alternative/clone of one of the more popular Chinese flagship phones.

Being a Oppo knock-off manufacturer probably doesn’t match the ambitions of the OnePlus brass, but they will be starting with a huge amount of press and larger companies have started with humbler beginnings.

This Wednesday should be an interesting one for fans of Chinese tech.

 

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25 Comments

  1. April 20, 2014

    Hmm … pride first and failure follows … 1+ beware.

    • antidumb
      April 20, 2014

      nice one

  2. Freeje
    April 20, 2014

    They got too ambitious. If they concentrated on the Chinese market first then to Chinese customers, mistakes that they made are understandable. Just goes to show that they are not prepared to be a world class tech company.

  3. $2548414
    April 20, 2014

    I would be wary of One plus ..hurried into market..lemons could result…One plus on my 2015 radar only after maturity of product and more mature company..

    • The Chosen One
      April 21, 2014

      Exactly! I personally only purchase 3-4months after initial launch of any electronic device especially a smartphone.

      I think thats enough time to hear of reported real world failures and track the contingent, if any, fixes released by the manufacturer

    • njren
      April 22, 2014

      The guts of the phone will rely on Qualcomm reference designs, which are totally sorted out. The peripheral hardware is another matter, but as the article pointed out, they are relying on their connection to Oppo (and likely Vivo) for this first device, so again, things should be pretty well sorted. Look to Oppo and the Find 5 and Find 7 if you want clues to what might go wrong with the OnePlus. I think they’ll be fine; in fact, I’d only be more concerned once they cut ties with Vivo + Oppo and start taking more risks.

  4. desponent
    April 21, 2014

    “their own success”

    They have to release a product first before they can succeed in anything but annoy people.

    • Ian DeMartino
      April 21, 2014

      Not true, they have been successful in creating hype. You are right that is only part of the battle, but they have had success. To use a baseball analogy: OnePlus has loaded up the bases, but they haven’t brought anyone home just yet. These mistakes could be outs 1 and 2 as well.

      • desponent
        April 21, 2014

        hype does not always equal success and it could even backfire horribly.

        • Ian DeMartino
          April 21, 2014

          That is the whole point of that section of the article.

          • desponent
            April 21, 2014

            thus it’s a success right?

    • CocaColaManager
      April 21, 2014

      hahahah right on! The only thing they’ve been good at is annoy people

  5. April 21, 2014

    It’s looking more and more like liek BBK’s strategy was to spin OnePlus out of Oppo, with the main (or only) differentiator being the OS. It seems Oppo is continuing (and expanding to competing devices) it’s ColorOS development and OnePlus is selling rebranded Oppo hardware with Cyanomod software.

    I’ve got no evidence for this other than Oppo hasn’t made a peep about CM11 on the Find 7, and in fact has been completely quiet about their Cyanomod partnership since OnePlus was spun out. Plus, of course, the leaked photos of the “secret” OnePlueOne, which looks pretty much like a lightly reskinned Find 7a.

    I don’t see ANY problem with this arrangement. I think it would be great to have quality hardware running CM software.

    But apparently OnePlus management does. They’ve been secretive and somewhat dishonest, when all they needed to say upfront is that they are taking over the job of optimizing CM software for Oppo hardware.Had they done this, we all would have been thrilled!

    I’m not sure what OnePlus was thinking. Regardless of leaks or marketing stunts, the fact that they didn’t come clean about the fact that they’re using a barely modified Find 7a was going to cause a reckoning on launch day.

    Hyping up the exact hardware that Oppo is providing and claiming its “revolutionary” when it’s sold by OnePlus (but not when it’s sold by Oppo) is the kind of behavior we expect from Apple. And last I checked, Apple isn’t all that popular amongst the Android phone buyers.

    • Simon
      April 21, 2014

      If you had the choice between Oppo Find 7a and OnePlus Oe which would you choose ?

      • April 21, 2014

        Not seen the OnePlus One yet so it is hard to say. Lets wait a few more days 😉

        • April 21, 2014

          Andi, is there any chance you could ask your Oppo contacts about their plans for CM software on the Find 7 and 7a now that One Plus has been spun out?

        • Simon
          April 21, 2014

          I’m waiting 🙂

      • April 21, 2014

        Well, we just have the spy shots of the OPO, so lets wait as Andi suggests.

        But IF they are the same hardware, then I’ll go with the one that runs CM11.

        I would prefer the 2K display version running CM11, but lets see what’s offered.

  6. CocaColaManager
    April 21, 2014

    Finally Andi started gathering his lost brains! hahah “I don’t personally know what makes the OnePlus One unique. If I did, I assure you, I would tell you ….. looked quite a bit like Oppo’s Find 7” Exactly! That’s what I’ve been saying all this time.

    • April 21, 2014

      Ian wrote this

      • CocaColaManager
        April 21, 2014

        hahaha too bad. You disappointed me Andi!

  7. Bailey
    April 21, 2014

    I don’t know if it is a 100% that the one+ will look like the younger sister of the find 7 if it does there may be some mighty big backlash as one+ having been telling people lies for months. Yes they mucked up on a competition I don’t know if that is the end of the world. It would seem that a lot of people are extremely emotionally invested in this company to the point where saying its just a phone does not seem to register. I personally look forward to see what they are going to put out on the 23rd it might make a record of the quickest closing mobile company in the world or it could be a success.

  8. randomguy
    August 24, 2014

    Oppo owns a percentage of one plus and sells the one plus phones on their sites oppomart and OnePlus dot eu. The invite system is a scam to create demand for the hphones which sell for $100 more on the above two sites. Its a marketing scam in order to make more money. The problem they should look at is that this kind of marketing is illegal in the states and they are putting themselves in a bad position.