- The Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus plans to move beyond mobile devices for the first time with a new product: the OnePlus TV.
- Pete Lau, the founder of OnePlus, said his vision was to make a TV with seamless connectivity to a user’s smartphone. He also wants to add the functionality of a smart artificial-intelligence assistant, similar to Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, but with more of a visual element.
- The OnePlus TV, which is in the early stages of development, could launch next year, though the company said it would take post-release software updates to fully realize its vision.
- Right now, OnePlus is best known for its low-cost, high-powered smartphones – at $530, its latest model, the OnePlus 6, is half the cost of an Apple iPhone X but almost as powerful.
For almost five years, the only products sold by OnePlus have been its well-regarded line of affordable, high-end smartphones and the accessories that go with them.
The Chinese smartphone company has built up a loyal base of customers who follow each new release with a fervor that can be compared only to Apple fans at the launch of a new iPhone. Few Android phones, if any, get city-block-spanning lines of prospective buyers when a new model comes out. But OnePlus does, and did.
On Sunday, the company announced it would expand its product lineup to include TVs, bringing OnePlus beyond smartphones for the first time.
It’s perhaps an unexpected move, but many OnePlus smartphone users have already asked the company why it doesn’t make a TV, its founder, Pete Lau, told Business Insider in a phone interview, speaking via an interpreter. And while many details about the TV are still unclear, Lau said OnePlus was thinking big with the new product.
"At present, we feel the current market of TVs is still feeling quite traditional in their functionality and experience," Lau said. "And they haven't really well integrated the internet into the experience and making the experience match with what would be expected in today's connected society."
Lau is cautiously hopeful that OnePlus will release its first TV in 2019, with software updates gradually making it smarter and more connected over the five years following the launch. In other words, Lau expects it to take some time for the product to live up to its full promise.
"This will have to be a process that proceeds step by step," he said. "It won't be something that's perfect and absolutely complete and revolutionary from the start. So we can't get everyone's hopes up too soon."
Rethinking the TV
We also don't know what kind of specs to expect in the OnePlus TV, including whether it'll come with 4K resolution or HDR (high-dynamic range for enhanced colors and contrast). But Lau said OnePlus was building a premium, flagship TV and promised it would have specs to match.
For now, Lau wants to talk about the company's vision for a TV. In a world where artificial-intelligence-powered assistants and smart speakers are increasingly common, Lau thinks connected TVs can feel a little stale in terms of their potential.
To begin, the OnePlus TV will be smart, Lau said. But Lau's vision is to evolve the typical smart TVs, and he wants to make them smarter and better connected to smartphones, still the primary device in many people's lives.
With a OnePlus TV, Lau wants to bring together the best of all worlds. He envisions seamless connectivity between your smartphone and TV, as well as the type of AI smarts and assistive functionality offered by devices like Amazon's Echo and the Google Home.
That means beaming photos and home videos to your TV without needing to worry about a clunky app or third-party service. It also means showing you useful information like upcoming calendar events and suggestions for departure times for your daily commute, as well as the ability to arrange transportation to and from a destination. This is just a small example of what Lau thinks OnePlus could do with TVs.
Lau didn't say which company's AI could be used to power the OnePlus TV, but he did say OnePlus is in talks with major industry players to support existing connected-home ecosystems.
Essential to the OnePlus TV experience will also be a built-in camera, Lau said. Regarding concerns that having a camera on a TV could be a home-privacy nightmare, Lau sought to reassure prospective buyers: "We have this in mind, and we will have a solution."
The competitive field
Some examples of this kind of AI/TV integration exist already. Amazon sells Fire Edition TVs by Toshiba and Element that come with Alexa built in and display similar information. Google too has increasingly integrated its Chromecast streaming devices with its Google Assistant, allowing you to display the weather and other information on your connected TV.
And Amazon already makes a device that sounds somewhat similar to what OnePlus is cooking up: the Amazon Echo Show, an Alexa-powered device with a screen and a camera that can display calendar appointments, the weather, and other information. But the TV is the centerpiece of your home, and Lau wants to bring intelligence there, rather than make a separate device.
In true OnePlus fashion, Lau said, the company will solicit ideas from its community on what features and functionalities people want from a TV - an approach that has served it well in the past.
What makes OnePlus different
Perhaps what will help differentiate the OnePlus TV is the company's philosophy on product design.
OnePlus has made its name by building high-end devices - with premium designs, materials, build qualities, specs, and software - for a price that won't decimate your bank account. The latest $530 OnePlus 6 smartphone easily contends with devices that cost nearly twice as much, including Apple's flagship $999 iPhone X.
"Our users have acknowledged the excellence in the OnePlus build quality across our smartphone devices, so we have that reputation and acknowledgment," Lau said.
To be clear, Lau and OnePlus have just begun the long process of making and selling a OnePlus TV, and the company is still in the very early stages of development - hence the lack of specific details or a solid launch date.
"We have just gotten started," Lau said.
Even so, Lau said OnePlus was taking this seriously and that the die had been cast: The OnePlus TV is the next big thing for the company.
"We want to be clear and make it well known that this decision has been made and we are going to make this product," Lau said.