Interview: OnePlus Global Director Carl Pei opens up about CyanogenMod, India plans and more

“We’re not in the numbers game, and just want to focus on user experience”

Just as OnePlus was preparing for a smooth landing in India, YU, the upcoming online-only brand from  Micromax threw a roadblock on the runway by announcing an exclusive partnership with Cyanogen, the same custom ROM that runs on the OnePlus One (FAQs | review). As per the terms of the agreement, Cyanogen won’t offer any software support or updates to any other devices apart from YU, and this left OnePlus in a lurch. The device has been priced very attractively at Rs 21,999 for the 64GB version, and has gone on sale today on Amazon India via an invite-based system. Talking to us on the side-lines of the OnePlus India launch event in New Delhi, Global Director of OnePlus, Carl Pei didn’t seem fazed at all, and on the contrary, was quite upbeat about launching the One in India. The brand has already announced that it will be taking care of the software side of things by coming up with its own Android Lollipop-based firmware, the first beta of which will be available sometime within this month. We did have a few other questions for him however, and the unassuming young executive patiently took the time to answer them despite the din of the excited crowd around. Some of the statements have been edited for the sake of brevity. 


91mobiles: So first things first. How many units of the One do you have in the first lot going on sale in India?

CP: Our first shipment consisted of 20,000 units, and the second batch is already on its way. Over time, we’re looking to increase the number of units we make available in India. The ramp-up will be much faster than the global ramp-up in the beginning. This morning, we had 210,000 people sign up for our newsletter, which indicates the level of interest, but we have to make sure we don’t over-extend ourselves and import more than what we can sell. There are such low margins, both for us and our partner Amazon, that we cannot be caught with excess inventory.

91mobiles: You’ve announced today that just like the device, the official accessories for the One will be available via Amazon India as well. Personalisation is one of the key aspects that was mentioned in the early days, and the StyleSwap covers were a great idea. What’s the deal on those?

CP: We figured out that the StyleSwap covers weren’t really easy enough for users to install themselves. We’re planning to introduce them in India too, but users will need to go to our service centres to get them installed.

91mobiles: You mean the covers will be available to buy at the service centres and not via Amazon like the other accessories?

CP: That’s the thought process now, but we still need to take a final call. We’ve just been so busy with this launch that we haven’t had the time to figure out the rest of it yet.

91mobiles: OnePlus has seen its share of controversies, and apparently, some forum entries mention something about OnePlus selling refurbished units. Considering how picky customers in India can be, something like this could affect your sales. How would you respond to that?

CP: We have never sold a refurbished unit. Apparently, one of the units got mixed up at the warehouse and a customer got the wrong shipment, but his unit was replaced with a new one later. We do have a few returns, but we haven’t even processed them yet. All units we sell are completely new.

OnePlus One_17

91mobiles: We’re wondering about the Cyanogen branding on the back of the units. Now that Cyanogen won’t be your partner going forward, at least in India, what happens to the branding?

CP: Right now we’re shipping the exact same global version in India, and we’re going to phase out the branding globally.

91mobiles: The Cyanogen news must’ve come as a big surprise. What’re the plans going forward?

CP: It came as a really big surprise, we got told just four days before the launch here.  On the other hand, when we started talking about this with our fan base, the support from India was overwhelming. People added me on Twitter and said “hey, we’re going to buy the device anyway”. It’s pretty emotional for us to see such support here and I think our new ROM is going to do really well. In fact, we have some pretty exciting news to announce on Friday. It will have impact not only on India, but the entire Android community as a whole.

OnePlus One_display_2

91mobiles: Great pricing for the phone by the way.

CP: Yeah, we were very honest in the beginning when we announced Rs 25,000 as the pricing… the cost of doing business in India is higher with the VAT and other taxes. But we were able to work closely with Amazon.. we went down a little bit, they went down a little bit, and the final pricing is just for the users. None of us have any margins anymore.

91mobiles: Sales volume is a metric recognised globally for a mobile phone brand’s success, but with the kind of numbers you’re selling now, clearly you’re not after market share. What’s OnePlus’ goal then?

CP: The goal is to make really good products, and provide our users really good service. Sales volume will only be a result of doing these two things well.

With inputs from Nitansh Rastogi

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