OnePlus 7 Questions with Carl Pei

How to make a flagship killer!

As the Co-founder of OnePlus, Carl Pei takes us through what lies ahead for the company and its fans. We can’t help but notice the focus he has for making sure the brand stays true to its motto “Never Settle”.

Carl is one of the rare people in the industry who still engages with his fans on a one-on-one basis - he ensures that emails sent to him are personally replied by him. We don’t doubt that, because ever since the launch of the OnePlus One, the company has been listening closely to what owners of the phone and potential customers look for. With each new device, OnePlus has ensured that those suggestions made their way to a newer model in the best possible manner that is both balanced, yet cutting edge.

Carl is more than passionate about the company he co-founded and is meticulous in his approach. Tiny things that can make the OnePlus experience better will make it to the end product. As we chat with him, he points out about the animation that executes when you press the fingerprint scanner, taking you to the home screen or when you are closing an app. He uses the Apple iPhone 6 as an example and goes on to explain that there is a bit of a frame drop when you are taken to the home page.

When the OnePlus 3 was being designed, this worried Carl and the OnePlus team and they wanted to ensure that did not happen on the 3. Which is why on the OnePlus 3, with the Oxygen OS, as you invoke the fingerprint scanner, the animation falls and fades at the same time to provide a seamless visual experience. Even something like the feedback that the volume rockers offer had to be precise enough, so that that user could derive a certain amount of satisfaction from it.

It's been a long and exciting journey between the One and the latest 3. Take us through the hardships and the excitement that the team went through.

It’s not even been 3 years and every half a year or so everything feels completely different. When we announced the OnePlus One, we were trending on Twitter with three hashtags simultaneously #oneplus, #neversettle and #flagshipkiller, and eventually what happened is, our website crashed, but that was a good thing and we loved the response. Then, as we were preparing to launch the 2, we were afraid that we would end up being a one-hit company. But then the 2 launched and it proved that we would stick around for a while. As we were working on the 3, it was all about getting the basics right, building more trust, offering a better return policy and doing away with the invite system. It’s been over a month since we launched the OnePlus 3 and the response has been good. In fact, we may even run into some inventory problems (laughs). Which is a good thing.

While the OnePlus 2 was a fantastic package for its price, some wanted it to be more premium. That is no longer an issue as the 3 is hands down the best-looking Android smartphone at the moment. How did that come through?

First of all, it is the realization that you can’t listen to everyone. We did about seven weeks of Q&A with the community and a metal body was on the top of the request list, followed by a bigger battery. Surprisingly, the third most wanted request was a Sandstone exterior, which we did not go with. Because, as product people, you have to filter - you have to have a gut instinct. You listen to the market, but then you filter it down and design your end product. In a nutshell it was three things – 1) Go back to the basic 2) Listen to your customers, and 3) You cannot make everyone happy.

In its current version, Oxygen OS looks and feels great to work with. It gives the user a ton of things to work with or tweak and yet manages to provide a wholesome Android experience. Tell us about the work that went into its latest build.

Speed, battery life and stability were the three things we wanted to get right. I believe we are 70 percent there and in the coming months we will unveil even more advanced features.

What does Carl Pei's office space consist of? Tell us about the tech and gadgets that entice you, inspire you or simply help you relax.

It’s very messy, it’s very low tech. Right now it’s kind of a folding desk on which I sit and work. I have a Macbook Air from 2012 and a Dell monitor. But, I do have pretty high audio setup that’s made up of a DAC amp and a pair of high-end Sennheiser headphones.

According to you what is that one thing that Android smartphones today miss? How do you plan to fill that void?

There is no single Android smartphone that can compete with Apple and that’s a big problem for the entire ecosystem. Because if you look at the numbers Android has, the vast majority of the market share, which all looks very good on paper. However, in the premium space, there is no competition to Apple and a lot of things will be affected by that. Like the ARP on the appstore is way higher than the Play Store. A high-end user is worth a lot more than a regular or a low-end user and this is a big problem for the Android community. I know that it takes time to get there and that’s the focus by doing only one flagship phone a year. I am not saying that we are there this year, but over time we hope to be the only Android brand that can stand up against Apple.

We do know that OnePlus is not really interested in pursuing VR or wearables. So, what areas are you looking to innovate in? Or will the focus continue to be on smartphones?

I think we got a bit ahead of ourselves when we tried too many things, therefore from now on our focus will be to make one flagship phone a year.

Tell us about your India-specific plans for the next year. You can share some numbers too.

We will have six exclusive service centers rolled out over the course of the end of this year. And what’s special about this is that our service centers will be a single brand made OnePlus style, with a lot of concrete and wood. Instead of having long rows of seats, it’s more like a big round table in the middle where the user can experience that product. Because product renders online do not do complete justice to the device and these centers will enable potential customers to have a look and feel of the product.

Will the OnePlus 4 have a space time ripping portal built into it? Spill the beans.

Well, right now we don’t have that kind of technology but fingers crossed, you never know what happens.