OnePlus CEO’s recent comment on cheap phones genuinely confuses us

A closeup of the back of the OnePlus One showing its single rear camera.

Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown

Earlier this week, a new interview with OnePlus co-founder and CEO Pete Lau hit the internet. During the interview, Lau talked quite a bit about the company’s plans in the near and far off future. He also talked about some cheap OnePlus phones on the way.

While it’s far from a secret at this point that a budget-oriented OnePlus phone is coming soon (likely called the OnePlus Z), one particular quote from Lau’s interview caused us to scratch our heads. The quote came through an interpreter, so maybe something’s being lost in translation. At face value, though, it’s a very curious quote about cheap OnePlus phones.

Check out Lau’s quote below:

What we’re seeing is that with current products, there’s still a demand from a large consumer base for a more suitable price that enables more consumers to be able to access OnePlus products. That’s really important insight, and it’s something that we’re taking into very serious consideration.

Cheap OnePlus phones: A no-brainer, right?

OnePlus 7 red back panel with camera and logo

There’s quite a bit to unpack in the quote above. Lau seems to essentially be saying that people still want cheap smartphones, particularly cheap OnePlus phones. Although he doesn’t specifically say as much, he appears to suggest that he’s been privy to some sort of data or market research that is showing him this desire for inexpensive phones exists.

Let me re-emphasize that. Lau appears to be saying here that he’s just recently discovered that people still want to buy phones that aren’t expensive.

Related: The best budget Android phones you can buy

I don’t know about you, but that just seems off to me. How could the CEO of an incredibly successful smartphone company not understand the smartphone industry as it currently stands? One of the world’s current best-selling Android phones is a mid-ranger from Samsung. That same company’s 2020 flagship line — which is unbelievably expensive — is currently floundering. The most popular iPhones of 2019 and 2020 so far are the least-expensive models. I mean, I could go on and on with sales data that shows smartphone consumers naturally gravitate towards less expensive devices.

Meanwhile, there really aren’t any cheap OnePlus phones anymore. The company started out with a $300 “flagship killer� in the OnePlus One, but now even the cheapest entry in the OnePlus 8 line starts at more than double that.

It doesn’t take a brilliant market analyst to know that cheap OnePlus phones are essential. The company needs them to remain competitive but also needs them because that’s what the brand was founded on.

Yet, here we are, with the CEO acting as if this is some sort of revelatory info.

Maybe this is getting lost in translation…

OnePlus logo 1

Once again, Lau is not a native English speaker, and it’s quite possible his statement wasn’t translated as best as it could have been. But as it stands, this makes it seem like Lau is genuinely surprised that people want cheap OnePlus phones. In the last half of the quote, he even says as much: “That’s really important insight, and it’s something that we’re taking into very serious consideration.�

Surely the CEO of OnePlus knows and understands that you, the consumer, wants to spend less money on phones, right?

In a way, this is kind of similar to the problems Google faces with its Pixel line. Every regular reader of Android Authority can tell you that Google Pixel smartphones are dragged down by their poor battery life. Yet, somehow, the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL shipped with smaller batteries than the previous models. How is that even possible? How did Google ever think that would be a good idea?

Lau’s comments here caused me to scratch my head in the same way. How is this news to him? How could he run a company as successful as OnePlus and not fully grasp the consumers who buy his products? Pete Lau might not be a daily reader of Android Authority, but surely he keeps up on the market news somehow, right?

…or maybe it’s just pre-emptive PR

Xiaomi Mi 9T Rear casing focused on logo and carbon texture

I have no doubt that Pete Lau is a smart guy. If the confusing quote about cheap OnePlus phones isn’t something that’s just getting lost in translation, then it is more likely than not a bit of pre-emptive PR.

OnePlus faces some incredibly stiff competition in the smartphone space. Not only does it need to go up against Samsung, Apple, and Huawei, but it also can’t ignore the other phone companies pushing out a never-ending stream of mid-rangers and budget phones. I’m talking about Xiaomi and its sub-brands, Realme, and even HMD Global with its line of Nokia handsets.

Related: These are the best Xiaomi phones you can buy

It’s possible that this quote from Lau could be used later as a kind of, “See, we know our customers want cheap OnePlus phones, and we listen to our customers!� Of course, since OnePlus phones have done nothing but increase in price for the past four years that statement will be easily refuted — but that doesn’t really matter when it comes to PR.

Now, to be fair, cheap OnePlus phones are definitely on the way. We don’t know too much for certain about them, but Lau says they are coming and we have some rumors that suggest they are going to be cool. How successful these phones will be, though, we are not sure. But at least Lau isn’t just blowing smoke and isn’t just ignorant of the market — the budget-oriented OnePlus phones people want are on the way.

For now, I’m just going to chalk up this quote as some pre-emptive PR strategy. It doesn’t sit right with me to think of it that way, but hey: if it helps bring about cheap OnePlus phones, I’m all for it.

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