OnePlus Grows Up and Goes Invite-Free For Its Next Phone
When the remarkable OnePlus One arrived two years ago, it made people reimagine the $300 smartphone. But it also made everyone reimagine how they buy a phone, with an invitation-based system as frustrating as it was arcane. Now, with the imminent launch of the OnePlus 3 flagship on June 14th, that madness ends and you’ll buy the phone like any other phone.
Reviewers heaped praise upon the OnePlus One and its follow-up, the OnePlus 2, but it’s understandable if you haven’t heard of them. Blame that, in part, on an invite system that required signing up for a reservation or hitting a social media promotion jackpot or receiving an invitation from a friend with a OnePlus. It was an absurd inconvenience for a gadget ostensibly designed to make life easier.
It also was the only way to ensure the company stayed afloat, says co-founder Carl Pei.
“When we started this company, we had no idea how many people would want to buy our products. We didn’t want to risk a situation where people would come to our website and find out we had no stock, and no ETA on when we would get it,” he says. “For us it’s more important to grow sustainably rather than fast, so we’d rather err on the side of caution.”
The circumspection paid off. Pei says he expected to sell 50,000 units and shipped nearly 1 million. People may have waited months to buy a OnePlus One, but when they did, it shipped immediately.
The system also protected OnePlus against underestimating demand—or being overly confident about it. Sitting on unsold inventory strains any business—even Amazon, which logged a $170 million write-down on its Fire Phone flop—but it can ruin a fledgling one. Not that this excuses turning a simple transaction into migraine.
“In year three it’s really hard to keep asking people to understand that you’re a young company an still trying to understand how to handle a supply chain,” says Pei. “It’s about time that we stopped giving ourselves excuses.”
OnePlus will sell the OnePlus 3 just like everyone else sells phones. Well, not quite. The device launches at 12:30 pm Eastern on June 14 with a “virtual reality experience,” a spaceship environment the company calls “The Loop.” Those joining the event get dibs on orders; everyone else goes through the OnePlus website starting at 3 pm.
As to the phone, official details remain scarce (though leaks are plentiful), but Pei says the price should be around $300 like previous OnePlus flagships. That could make getting one right away tough. If you miss out on the first batch, Pei says you’ll get an accurate read on how long you might wait, and pegs it at two to three weeks at most. He’s confident the OnePlus servers can handle an onslaught; the company gave away 30,000 VR headsets in a promotion meant to stress-test the system. It passed.
Killing invitations doesn’t make life easier for OnePlus, but that’s the point. A company has no way of knowing for sure how many people will buy a new product; manaing inventory always involves risk. But now the company’s customers won’t suffer to help mitigate that risk. They’ll just buy a phone.