It’s been a roller-coaster ride for OnePlus. Five years since the launch of the OnePlus One in India, the market represents the largest growth opportunity for the brand. OnePlus is now the largest premium-segment smartphone player in India and has been instrumental in creating the entire affordable flagship category.
With that in mind, it only makes sense that the company starts looking at creating products that are closely aligned with the demands of its largest user base. At an event in Hyderabad, OnePlus opened up its new R&D facility. With a promised 1,000-crore rupees (~$140 million) investment planned out, this will be the company’s biggest research center anywhere. We sat down with Szymon Kopeć, Product Lead at OnePlus, to find out what this OnePlus R&D center means for OnePlus users.
2019 has been a transformative year for OnePlus. As the company is starting to look at a more premium audience with the OnePlus 7 Pro, it has also started diversifying by offering a services layer on top of the core OxygenOS experience. India has been leading development on this front and Zen Mode, a software profile that pushes you to step away from your phone, was born here.
Development done in India will have a global impact.
As OnePlus looks at India as the next homebase instead of just another market, you can expect to see more services catering to an Indian audience, albeit with a global appeal. Case in point, live-updated cricket scores on the Shelf. While that specific sport might not be of great importance to say, a North American market, it is easy to see it being adapted for local markets.
In fact, we should be seeing a number of new services before the year is over. Kopeć mentioned that the company is aiming to launch a low-cost worldwide data roaming service within the next two months. This, in addition to a robust SMS manager app that will segregate and sort out incoming texts from your bank, coupons etc., all while weeding out spam.
Kopeć mentioned that India will primarily be looking at the application and services layer, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect broader changes in the OnePlus experience. Earlier this year, I got a chance to take a look at the OnePlus camera lab in Taiwan. The Indian R&D center in Hyderabad is now getting its own camera testing lab. The team in India has been working with their Taiwanese counterparts to provide local feedback, however the Indian lab will have greater autonomy in tweaking the camera tuning. OnePlus is also investing in hiring engineers proficient in augmented reality, a feature it thinks will be increasingly relevant in the next few years.
Localized camera tunings can be a double-edged sword. Many markets, like India, have a preference for skin smoothing filters and a more contrast-rich image. This might not always be the case around the world. Kopeć reaffirmed that while any tweaks made will apply to the global build, changes will be made keeping in mind the global appeal of OnePlus hardware. No, OnePlus does not plan to have a beauty filter switched on by default.
OnePlus will begin trialing 5G hardware in India later this year.
While camera and services are a key part of the smartphone experience, OnePlus is already gearing up for the next big opportunity. With the spectrum auctions still a way off, 5G isn’t going to be widespread in India anytime soon, but OnePlus is already working closely with operators and chipset providers. OnePlus will begin testing hardware as 5G spectrum trials open up in India later this year.
As OnePlus gets ready to mark its entry into the television market next month, the new research center signifies a greater push and more aggressive stance in the Indian market. The company is already manufacturing all its hardware in India to capitalize on tax breaks. While you won’t be seeing significant hardware development here just yet — that expertise and responsibility still rests with the Shenzhen HQ — OnePlus is positioning its Hyderabad facility to gradually upstream local knowledge that should play a greater role in development of next-gen OnePlus hardware.