The next generation smartphone will revive the controversial invitation only purchase queue.

Call it brilliant market or fiendish frustration.  One thing's for sure -- privately held Chinese smartphone OnePlus's invitation-only purchase system got a lot of people talking.  Now it's modifying one key element of its sales strategy -- sort of.

In a blog post it announced that it would be ditching the invite-based sales system for its first generation smartphone, clearing the way for more hassle-free global sales.  However, the caveat is that its soon-to-be-announced second generation model will likely bring back the system -- and the controversy that came with it.

OnePlus has been a company mired in endless controversies, but also has seen a lot of positive buzz.  Notably, its first generation handset was among the first to commerically use Cyanogenmod -- a popular replacement firmware system which supports the open sort parts of Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system and replaces the proprietary bits of the world's most-used smartphone OS.

Announced in April 2014, the company's first generation handset packed not only CyanogenMod, but also a seemingly unbeatable spec at its price point ($299 USD, unlocked).  That led to a media frenzy.

But OnePlus would provoke controversy when it failed to immediately ship the promised handset to those who reserved the device.  Instead, customers had to wait until June when handset shipments finally began to trickle out.  Likewise the invites system was another bone of contention.  Initial shipments were hard to get an invite to.

OnePlus One
The first-generation OnePlus One

By Oct. 2014 OnePlus would begin to loosen these restrictions, but some customers were irritated at being subjected to the complex purchase process.  In addition to the hassle, many customers felt the system was misleading as it created a false impression of broad availability.  By the time the phone became broadly available its spec was less impressive, even at its relatively low price.

In a post on the preoder system, OnePlus wrote on Monday:

Since the early days, our company has changed quite a lot. We’ve grown to over 700 employees and have sold over one million OnePlus Ones worldwide. We’ve also learned an immeasurable amount from all of you. We pour over your comments on our forums and social media and soak in the feedback you give us at events all around the world. We try to not just listen, but also act on these lessons. Your feedback has resulted in a wider range of accessories, better logistics options and an evolution from invites to pre-orders to Tuesday Open Sales. Now, we’re taking it one step further.

Starting today, the One will be available without an invite. Forever.

That’s right. In our first big celebration of the One’s successful year, we are opening up sales globally for everyone, every day of the week. We have always wanted to put great products into the hands of more people. And, we now feel confident that we have matured enough to handle the increased complexity that comes along with opening up sales completely.


However, it immediately adds that the upcoming "OnePlus 2" -- the phonemaker's second-generation model -- would bring back the preorder system.  The company writes:

Yes, the 2 will initially launch with invites. We’re committed to maintaining razor-thin margins in order to give as much value as possible back to our users, and this drastically increases our risk. The OnePlus 2 will bring the challenges that come along with a brand new product, and initially, our invite system will help us to manage that risk. It also helps us to be sure that every OnePlus 2 user gets the amazing experience that they deserve.
Our invite system has been a fascinating, evolving experiment. Within the community, feelings towards our invite system vary, and we understand that. The reality is that we wouldn’t be where we are today without it. But, as always, we are listening. Your feedback significantly alters our trajectory, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Keep being loud, bold and honest; we’ll promise to do the same.

The invites system, of course wasn't the only controversy surrounding OnePlus.  The firm also faced questions over the ambiguity about OnePlus's relationship with China's Oppo Electronics -- a far bigger OEM.  OnePlus's CEO Pete Lau was a former Oppo executive -- however OnePlus initially gave the media the impression that it was an independent startup.  Eventually it would emerge that OnePlus was a wholly owned subsidiary of Oppo and a brand vehicle for Oppo's global smartphone push.

One thing even OnePlus's critics can agree upon -- though -- is that the firm has been brilliant at marketing itself.  With the release of the OnePlus 2, Oppo will surely look to capitalize on the public's curiosity that its subsidiary's last releast built up.  While the spec of the new device is still forthcoming, we can expect more of the same -- a bleeding edge set of hardware at a near-budget priced sticker.

Likewise we can expect some of the same sorts of negatives -- invitiation-based preordering and a slow rollout -- to apply to the second generation model.  Many will be willing to live with those negatives, though, to get an excellent OEM-supported custom ROM Android smartphone.

Sources: OnePlus [official blog], via Neowin

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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