Notch to get smaller, glass back is the future for OnePlus: Pete Lau
The CEO speaks on the company's philosophy and thinking behind the new design.
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ET had a chance to catch up with OnePlus CEO Pete Lau a few days prior to the event to find out more about the company's philosophy and thinking behind the new design.
Excerpts from the interview:
Also read: First impression of OnePlus 6
Q: The iPhone X did the notch first. It’s a big technological leap and now many Android phones are following the lead. But if you stop to think, the notch-hate is quite reactionary. It’s a necessary step towards the truly bezel-less design. And it does give you more screen space in a device that remains the same size without increasing the cost. Many would call that a win-win.
Part of the realisation of the full screen experience is using glass on the back. We’re pushing the limits of current technology right now. So the chin and notch will continue to become smaller. Perhaps in just a couple of years, we’ll be able to offer the entire front as a screen – a full screen experience without any bezel or notch.
Since the OnePlus One, we’ve had a very big focus on the back design and the in-hand feel. That’s one of the key differentiators between us and the others.
Q: So what are the challenges in making a smartphone with a notch and a chin?
The main challenge is trying to make the notch small while fitting in all the things that are needed. There’s the receiver (earpiece), front camera and a number of sensors. The camera needs to be large enough to take good photos, the receiver needs to be large enough so that calls are clear – achieving that trade-off is hard.
As for the chin, we can do things like move the buttons on-screen but there are a number of connections that must happen right there (just where the display ends). Making that area smaller is what we want to do but it will take some time.
Q: Apart from the OnePlus X, all other OnePlus phones had solid metal or sandstone backs. How do you plan to handle complaints that glass backs are more brittle? What about one-time free screen/glass replacement in case of breakage.
There are definitely some concerns there but we think the percentage of people with complaints will be small. Even with a metal back, the front glass can still break. About free screen replacement, this is a good suggestion – we do have accident insurance that users can opt for separately. We will consider offering a brand provided warranty too.
Q: According to you what are the key reasons for OnePlus’ success – the product itself or the marketing push?
Core focus is always on the product – an absolute focus on product excellence is the key reason for any success we have had so far. The Indian market has constantly exceeded our expecations and that’s been very helpful with building a reputation. Marketing for us is just a means of increasing exposure and understanding of the product. They’re important but you still need the product to be a star. One important point I’d like to make is about a standard of excellence we follow – it’s a global standard, regardless of where the phones are made.
Q: In a forum post talking about the design, you mentioned some ‘seemingly insignificant details that led to a greatly changed experience’. Care to mention some examples?
For someone to pick up this product and actually like it, there’s an enormous amount of work that goes into the details – to get everything exactly right. One example is the back of the phone looking like ceramic while its actually glass. There are multiple layers behind the glass to achieve this. Even the curvature of the back has a massive impact on in-hand feel and the aesthetics in different light. We’re talking changes of even 0.1mm that make a difference. The fingerprint sensor is ceramic and it completes the design in a way. The polishing along the curve of the alloy frame is a lot of consideration. Different polishing methods make for a different feel.
Q: Glass or metal - which one is easier to work with?
With glass it’s a different set of challenges compared to metal. To achieve a particular kind of feel in the hand, you have to have the perfect slant on the glass back - on all four sides. That takes a lot of iterations to get right. The engineering team initially came to me and suggested a flat piece of glass for ease of manufacturing and lower costs. Materials used greatly affect how much a device is perceived as being premium. Moving from sandstone to metal and now glass, we think we have achieved that.
Q: Does the focus still remain on one flagship device? What about accessories (OnePlus did have power banks earlier) and wearables?
For smartphones our focus will very much remain on one flagship at a time. We want to create a reputation - to be associated with flagship devices. If we can create that, it is a good sign of success in India. For wearables, we are in continued consideration and observation, but as far as user experience goes, what is currently out there doesn’t seem good enough. Not good enough for OnePlus to get into the space. And as for accessories go, we’ve come up with the OnePlus Bullets Wireless headphones (available soon for Rs 3,999). They’re Bluetooth, offer great sound, water resistance, super-fast charging with USB C and a unique magnetic play/pause system.
Q: India remains one of the most important markets for OnePlus globally. Any significant milestone you would like to share?
In October 2016, we crossed the important threshold of a million plus OnePlus users in India. That fact that we sold so many flagship phones so quickly in India (just in 2 years) very much hammered home the point that India is a market of extreme potential and importance for us. We had the vast majority of our users in the top 10 cities so we created services to better serve that community.
In January 2017, we launched our experience store in Bangalore. We’re now expanding these stores to several others cities soon, so look out for those.