OnePlus got off to a good start in 2021. The smartphone manufacturer’s latest quarterly figures were better than expected and were in positive territory. These numbers certainly reflect the results of a strategic turnaround that began more than a year ago with the shift to the premium market and the launch of the Nord range. But can’t this big dream mean that Oppos, which is also the sister company of OnePlus, can cannibalize the market share?

Last week, OnePlus kindly allowed me some time to chat with Tuomas lamps, Head of Strategy for OnePlus Europe. The original purpose was to discuss OnePlus’ positive quarterly results for the first quarter of 2021. The manufacturer saw sales growth of 388% and sales growth of 286% compared to the first quarter of 2020.

While we are looking at balance sheets, I also wanted to see the 2020-2021 period as a time to reinforce OnePlus’s pull towards Oppo, at least in the collective imagination. Will these ambitions to strengthen its image as a top player in the European market not come up against a wall because of the close resemblance to Oppo products, which are also part of the BBK Group?

The numbers don’t lie …

The above numbers, which OnePlus has obviously been focusing on, are undoubtedly positive. However, we have to take into account that these are only percentages and not specific numbers. A 300% increase compared to what? We don’t know, and the smartphone market is still below 2019 levels, i.e. pre-Covid-19, although it had a nice upturn in late 2020 while carrying that momentum over to the first quarter of 2021.

According to a Counterpoint study carried out on April 27, OnePlus was still seeing an 85% growth in its market share in Europe, from 1% to 2% of its market share in the first quarter of 2021 in the corresponding period last year.

Proportionally similar growth figures were recorded at Oppo, which rose from 3% to 6% market share, making it the fourth largest smartphone manufacturer in Europe during this period. However, it still lags far behind those of Xiaomi, Apple, and Samsung in particular.

oneplus revenue share Q1 2021

The ranking of smartphone manufacturers in Europe in terms of market share for the first quarter of 2021 / © Counterpoint Research

Tuomas Lampen explained to me how important OnePlus’s diversification strategy is in analyzing these results. Certainly, the first quarter balance sheet mainly reflected the recently released flagship models OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, which accounted for 65% of total sales. But the new Nord range also played a key role in growth, starting with the OnePlus Nord, which was released in July last year (which accounts for 35% of sales).

“We have reached a level where we can proudly compete with other market giants. We have reached a level of maturity in the high-end market,” said the head of OnePlus, recalling the importance of the Nord catalog and the diversification of OnePlus in general -Portfolios in a 1 + X + N strategy that has become a mandatory rite of passage for every manufacturer.

… but they don’t tell the whole story

This “step-by-step strategy”, as Tuomas Lampen described it, has nevertheless established itself despite the mixed reception of the OnePlus Watch or the OnePlus Band. The latter had suffered from allegations of being nothing more than a rebranded version of the Oppo band as the two were very close to each other. The same goes for the OnePlus N100, which was seen as a clone of the Oppo A53.

And this is where the term “opposition” comes into play. This is nonsense in my opinion, but I’ll come back to that. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that Carl Pei’s departure last October, the reassignment of Pete Lau to oversee Oppo and OnePlus, the rebranding issue, and poor software updates for the Nord models were factors contributing to the apparent deterioration of the company.

The Nord range is known for having late, if any, software updates and these were the ingredients that ended up as the perfect storm for the once solid OnePlus identity versus that of a stranded company for which nothing more than a duplicate The platform is Oppo.

I’m not the only tech journalist to play the role of nostradamus, far from it. But talking about OnePlus’ obvious “opposition” in 2021 is sheer nonsense. I say nonsense because this is total nonsense!

Seriously, I don’t want to offend your knowledge of the smartphone market, but I need to remind you of the basics for some of you who have not kept up with the latest developments. OnePlus is a satellite brand owned by Oppo and both are part of the BBK Electronics group. In the past, OnePlus was Oppos’s attempt to respond to Xiaomi, which disrupted the smartphone market with its 100% online business model. I’ll let my colleagues at the Tech Altar explain this better than I can in the video below.

OnePlus is primarily a “sub-brand” made up of industry experts and enthusiasts. Here, too, we speak of “brand ambassadors”, with whom the acceptance of their products is becoming increasingly popular due to their strong brand image. This, in turn, transforms their catalog from a purely online platform to a mainstream market, no longer an online alternative, but an equivalent of Oppo and its affordable catalog.

It’s only natural that Oppo and OnePlus will gradually overlap as the two brands share their research and development capabilities. “A fantastic and beneficial opportunity,” said Tuomas Lampen, “to share our R&D resources when you see the giants we face.”

“Our community expects us to always offer better products while remaining cheaper than the competition. That is impossible if we do everything on our own.” However, the manager immediately qualifies that “we work completely independently of one another and have our teams to create and sell our equipment”.

The obvious similarities between the two begs the question of relevance – is it worth having two very similar brands offering very similar products at very similar prices? In other words, if OnePlus goes mainstream and transforms into a full-fledged brand with a full catalog and ecosystem, isn’t it shooting itself in the foot?

What arguments can OnePlus bring against Oppo?

Personally, I think that OnePlus will have to differentiate itself from Oppo if it is to continue its expansion strategy and become a mainstream brand while giving up its enthusiastic leanings. What use would it be for the BBK Group to have two brands that cannibalize each other?

Even if they have a similar catalog, they can still exist as long as they maintain a sufficiently different brand image from one another. Fanboyism is the main catalyst for success in the technology market. Check out Apple’s iSheep or Xiaomi’s Mi fans.

But what makes OnePlus different from the crowd? According to Tuomas Lampen there are two key elements: Community and OxygenOS. The community aspect of OnePlus marketing is indeed something that Oppo has less control over, at least in Europe.

Oppo is all about bling, advertising space at the French Open and flagship stores around the world. OnePlus is the company that plays the role of a goofy, young, technocentric start-up. “It’s our interactions, our collaboration with members, we listen to them and we take their feedback into account.”

According to Tuomas Lampen, the second pillar of OnePlus’ independence is software. “OxygenOS is one of the strongest elements we have, and with nearly 400 tweaks based on user feedback, it comes from the Community element. This ensures that we are in control of the user experience to deliver the best possible.”

While OxygenOS 11 is very divisive because it partially breaks away from the “inventory” and sheer legacy of the previous OnePlus operating system versions, it is my current favorite Android skin. Because of this, I am worried about the rumors that HydrogenOS will be dropped in favor of ColorOS for OnePlus smartphones in China.

The fact that Tuomas Lampen insists so much on the importance of OxygenOS in Europe is comforting. Anyway, the real problem with OxygenOS isn’t so much that OnePlus is being absorbed by Oppo, but that OnePlus ends up like another Oppo. In this case, it’s a huge loss to the smartphone world when you see how far OnePlus has come.


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