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OnePlus Is Launching an Ecosystem to Compete With Apple’s

Why pay more than $1,000 for a phone and earbuds?

OnePlus Nord. Photos courtesy of OnePlus.

Over the last few years, Apple has built a formidable, deeply integrated ecosystem around its products with services like iMessage and hardware like the Apple Watch and AirPods, allowing the company to sell these devices to iPhone owners at a premium relative to competitors. So far, few other manufacturers have nailed a similar experience.

Shenzhen-based OnePlus is trying, though, to build an alternative ecosystem — for half of the price. You can now buy both the company’s latest high-end phone, the OnePlus Nord, and its AirPods-style OnePlus Buds for under $600. Though other manufacturers have tried their hand at ecosystems of their own, OnePlus may change the game with a combination of high quality at an affordable price—a marked contrast to Apple or Samsung.

The OnePlus Nord has all of the specs of a top-end smartphone, like a 90Hz AMOLED display, 5G support, and a powerful 48-megapixel camera. But it retails for the equivalent of $480, almost half of the price of the latest iPhone, while the OnePlus Buds are just $79.

Buying an iPhone 11 Pro and a pair of AirPods, by comparison, will set you back more than $1,158 — close to double what OnePlus is asking. And despite that huge rift in price, OnePlus’ phones don’t skimp on quality; when I tested the company’s previous flagship, it felt just as slick as an iPhone.

OnePlus is likely less familiar in North America because the company has long been absent from the U.S. market and unavailable for purchase via any official channels. But, the company’s smartphones have gained popularity in Europe, India, and Asia, where buyers are more price sensitive.

That’s a big differentiator for OnePlus, which has successfully positioned itself internationally as selling high-end phones for much less than competitors like Apple, Google, and Samsung, which have been gradually raising their prices in recent years. When I last upgraded my own phone, upgrading from a Pixel 2 to a Pixel 4, I felt pricing fatigue as I was handing over $1,000 yet again.

OnePlus Buds.

One of the biggest factors to consider when you choose a phone brand in 2020 is what ecosystem you’re buying into (or missing out on). If you buy an iPhone, you can get an Apple Watch and AirPods; Samsung has its Galaxy Active Watch and Galaxy Buds; Google has Pixel Buds.

Outside of that world, you can buy third-party accessories like a Fitbit tracker or Sony earbuds, but they aren’t going to be as tightly integrated with your device because manufacturers can’t build custom experiences into phones they don’t own.

A huge differentiator for Apple and Samsung in 2020 is that they control the experience on their devices and can offer end-to-end integration like slick, instant headphone pairing when you open the headphones case. Smaller competitors just can’t match that on their own. Apple and Google own the operating systems, so anything the manufacturers would like to add would be a tremendous engineering effort on top rather than tightly coupled to the operating system.

That tight-knit integration makes for a better experience, and it’s a powerful lock-in mechanism as well; iPhone owners are far less likely to switch to Android if they own an Apple Watch or Airpods, which would render the watch useless and the headphones much more fiddly to deal with. That’s an expensive sunk cost and makes a potential switcher far less likely to choose a different device. For people outside of the Apple ecosystem, like myself, it’s easy to find yourself feeling jealous looking in because there are few alternatives that provide a similarly integrated experience.

With its new earbuds and the Nord, an incredibly competitively priced phone, OnePlus has a good chance of changing that dynamic. When you could get two pairs of headphones and phones for the same price as just one from Apple, it’s easy to imagine consumers being willing to give it a shot, even in North America, where the iPhone is overwhelmingly popular.

That, of course, would depend on OnePlus actually making its devices widely available in the U.S. and Canada, which it has been hesitant to do so far, only making available some versions of its handsets in the past. This year, that might change, with OnePlus hinting that it’s planning to come to North America for the first time with a “beta” of its latest phone, which it says is because the company has found that “focusing on just a few markets first and then expanding has worked well.”

If OnePlus did enter these countries officially with both the Nord and its new headphones, it would potentially make it much more competitive for everyone involved, providing an alternative at a fraction of the price. That could force companies like Apple and Samsung to actually compete on price or even open up their accessories to work with competitors’ devices better.

For me, it was already hard to justify spending over $1,000 on a phone and then buy accessories for hundreds of dollars as well. Knowing that there are a high-end phone and deeply integrated earbuds available for a fraction of the price available from OnePlus is likely to give me pause next time I need to upgrade — and that’s where the company has an opening to win people away.

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