Smartphone buyers had an additional alternative to the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) Galaxy line last year. The OnePlus One combined slick styling with powerful hardware, all at a very reasonable price. There was just one big catch: You had to be lucky or patient, and preferably both, to get your hands on One.
The smartphone was made in frustratingly small batches and doled out in small handfuls during invitation-only sales events. The company is back for a second swing at the smartphone market in 2015. Should Samsung and Apple start worrying about this upstart challenger?
First up, the OnePlus Two is very much on its way to store shelves. In a recent interview with PCWorld. OnePlus CEO Carl Pei said the new handset should launch in the summer.
The rumor mill is already up and running. Chinese technology blog, Gizchina, claimed that anonymous inside sources have provided an early look at hardware specifications for the OnePlus Two.
If those sources are on target, the phone should be built around the latest and greatest Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)SnapDragon 810 chip, lending 64-bit processing power to the new OnePlus flagship. Running Android 5.0 on top of that 64-bit platform, the OnePlus Two could support more than three gigabytes of RAM and will reportedly come with four gigabytes of high-speed operating memory.
That computing horsepower should lend a buttery smooth experience to the new handset, even if you're running many applications in the background. In fact, the 64-bit chipset alone would give the OnePlus Two more computing muscle than today's best flagships. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, for example, only comes with three gigabytes of RAM and a Qualcomm SnapDragon 805. That's a 32-bit chip, which lowers the ceiling for raw computing power and limits the memory space to three gigabytes.
The price tag for this monster will supposedly stop at 2,700 Chinese yuan, or about $430. The OnePlus One, tricked out with 64 gigabytes of storage, currently sells for $349 per unit. So the OnePlus Two would seem to approach the market with a new strategy -- fight the powers that be with outstanding performance at a good price rather than good specs at a highly competitive price.
Don't hold your breath, but . . .
Now, even Gizchina acknowledged these specifications are rumors. The final price might be wrong, OnePlus might not get an Android Lollipop STEM ready in time, and the company might settle for a lower-cost processor without all the 64-bit goodies. That being said, it's the best guess available so far -- and this model makes a lot of sense in the light of the other nugget of insight Pei left with PCWorld.
You see, Pei might want to introduce two new OnePlus models in 2015 -- and one of those could come with much less computing power.
"I think its going to be a phone catering to a different type of audience," Pei said about this second OnePlus handset. "Perhaps for those who appreciate design over specs."
In other words, you should expect a true low-cost OnePlus model this year as well. It will probably be a bit smaller than the 5.5-inch screen fitted on the OnePlus One, which is likely to carry over to the OnePlus Two (but perhaps with a higher resolution). This would be the high-volume model, likely to come with various design choices like those on the Motorola Moto X. Again, the price tag should be lower since this phone would not be packed to the gills with high-end hardware.
This one-two punch has convinced me that the 64-bit spec sheet for the purported OnePlus Two just might be real. Separate the market into a high-end layer and a cost-conscious one, and you can cater to both crowds without landing awkwardly in between and pleasing nobody.
The next question is, will OnePlus crank up the manufacturing volume to capitalize on its success? Speaking as a consumer, I hope so -- even if it's just for the low-end version. That ankle-biter could very well force other smartphone makers to rethink their pricing strategies.
How about the investor impact of the OnePlus brand? Well, if OnePlus plays its cards right, we're looking at the early days of another big smartphone player. One day, we might be able to invest in the company and its maverick low-cost strategy. Until then, investors still need to keep an eye on how this new challenger might affect the smartphone market at large.
It will take years to convince Apple not to chase fat margins in the luxury market, of course, but the OnePlus Two plans presented by Gizchina should be a good, strong push in that direction.