/Nord, the Nerd?

Nord, the Nerd?

oneplus nord

OnePlus has launched its ‘affordable’ smartphone Nord in India and tries to define affordability in its own way. Would the Nord turn out to be the ‘Nerd’ for OnePlus and its flagship range or would it disrupt the competition?

‘Affordable’ seems to have a new benchmark in India. A few months ago, the American company, Apple, launched its second-generation iPhone SE 2020 and priced at around Rs 42,990 and called it ‘affordable’. Similarly, the Chinese label, OnePlus, has launched its own version of ‘affordable’ smartphone in India, the OnePlus Nord, which sells at Rs 24,999.

The per capita income of India stood at Rs 11,254 in 2019-20 and in such a country companies define affordability by their own methods. It is upto you to decide whether a smartphone at Rs 24,000 or more sounds, looks or feels ‘affordable’ to you.

OnePlus has cleverly placed Nord in the competition and now tries to expand its reach for the below 30K buyers but, does it make sense for a premium brand to look back?

“Generally, if we look at premium brands across product categories that have attempted to enter a relatively affordable segment, the results have not been encouraging.  This is primarily because the brands compromise on quality and create a new value proposition on the price-quality continuum.  Apple’s C series of iPhones is an example to it,” said Faisal Kawoosa, Founder and Chief Analyst at techARC.

Role Reversal

Upasana Joshi, Associate Research Manager at IDC India says, “In India, One Plus began operating in late 2014 with an aim to join the league of premium smartphone makers such as Apple or Samsung. They built “a tech fan community” who preferred future-ready phones with the latest specification but not as heavy on the pocket as flagships from other brands. Starting as an invite-only launch on Amazon with its unique referral-based purchase, it really created a unique approach to market and spreader the word of mouth. Over the years, it’s product offerings which are very tech-heavy, superior build quality and designs, brand association through community-based programs, the opening of multiple experience stores, etc., have led to a strong affiliation of loyal customers of OnePlus especially in the US$400—600 segment.”

The COVID19 has done what trade war, competition, and demand could not do. OnePlus, a brand boasting itself to be the king of premium smartphones, i.e, beyond 30K price barrier, dived complete opposite of what was being expected of it and has defined a new space for itself under 25K with Nord, thus calling it ‘affordable’. This is purely an aftereffect of the Corona pandemic.

The economic situation and the lukewarm response to its last premium flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 8 series, have been the reasons for this reverse gear by OnePlus. The buyers, mainly corporate, did not have cash in hand at that time, salaries were deducted or not being paid at all, thousands lost their jobs in this pandemic, and because of these reasons, the OnePlus 8 series did not see much of buyers.

The ‘Sold Out’ on the e-commerce portal is a different ballgame of marketing. We can never know the exact number of units sold. The same happened with OnePlus TVs as well. The Chinese company brought down the prices of its newly launched TVs, Y, and U series, to Rs 12,999 for the 32-inch model. So you have understood why OnePlus was forced to look back in terms of products and their pricing.

“For the brand, in terms of business, this is a significant move.  It has been primarily playing in the premium segment and after 7 Pro launch, it had kissed the Luxe (above 50k) segment.  By that journey, it was getting into a less opportunity segment, confining its addressable market.  And then in Luxe, we have a dominance of Apple and Samsung.  So far the brand’s phones were in a segment that sells not more than 9 million smartphones a year.  Now it has widened that to cater to a segment where 12-14 million smartphones are sold annually in India.  We estimate OnePlus should be able to increase its sales in terms of unit volumes by 25-30% in the next 6-12 months.  This is owing to its strong equity in the premium segment and some level of aspiration in the affordable segment which it has just rung,” feels Faisal.

OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord is launched at a starting price of Rs 24,999 for the 6GB RAM and 64GB storage variant. The 6GB model is only limited to India. The 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB models will sell at Rs 27,999 and Rs 29,999, respectively. The basic 6GB/64GB model will be available in September. The other two variants will be available starting August 4.

“We are excited to finally bring a more accessible OnePlus smartphone that confidently stands alongside other products in the OnePlus family,” said Pete Lau, Founder, and CEO of OnePlus on its launch.

The OnePlus Nord has a 6.44-inch AMOLED display that offers a 90Hz refresh rate. Nord is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset paired with up to 12GB LPDDR4X RAM, 256GB, and UFS 2.1 storage. The OnePlus Nord runs on Android 10 based on OxygenOS 10.5.

Faisal says, “In the case of OnePlus Nord, there does not seem to be any compromise in quality and experience over which OnePlus has built its reputation over the years.  So, its aim of brining equitable experience to the affordable segment seems to have been achieved.”

The ‘affordable’ Nord sports four cameras at the back that include a 48MP Sony IMX586 primary sensor, 8MP ultra-wide lens, 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens. For selfies and video calls, it has a 32MP primary shooter and a secondary 8MP ultra-wide image sensor. The phone runs on a 4,115mAh battery supported by the Warp Charge 30T fast charging technology.

Upasana adds, “OnePlus Nord, the latest affordable offering from OnePlus aims at extending its product line further up to larger masses by bringing similar tech-heavy products at lower price points. Most of the features of Nord resonate with the flagship OP-8 like the number of cameras, megapixels, refresh rate, etc. with a difference in the chipset.”

Pandemic Planning, Is it?

Amit Sharma, Research Analyst, Industry Intelligence Group, CMR, said, “The affordable smartphone segment is one of the largest in India accounting for close to 75% of the market. We do not view the OnePlus move to go back to roots with the Nord as a reaction to the pandemic. Rather, it’s a strategic move to widen the OnePlus user base by catering to the consumer demand in this segment. The OnePlus Nord checks all the specs that one needs, including the dual selfie cameras, and being future 5G ready. All said Indian consumers, have traditionally viewed OnePlus as a Premium Smartphone brand that is synonymous with quality.”

There’s no denying that OnePlus has tried to make Nord a complete package, someone a buyer in that segment will look for otherwise in Xiaomi or Realme smartphones but, there are options available in the market with more or less same features such as Realme X3 and Xiaomi Redmi K20. This BBK-Electronics prodigy has understood the Indian market and its dynamics in the last six years of operations.

“During these unprecedented times of COVID, where economic health of the country is shaken, IDC expects the low and mid-end price segment phones to garner more volumes in comparison to high-end flagship devices. Nord fits decently in the mid-price segment backed up by the brand value of OnePlus which has rather gathered consumer mind share similar to Apple/Samsung over the years,” added Upasana.

The bulk sale continues in affordable and entry segment smartphones. The OnePlus now did not want to miss on that front as well but, in doing so it will also kill its own flagship smartphones such as OnePlus 8 series and OnePlus 7, etc. Neha, my colleague, has just purchased OnePlus 8 at a staggering price of Rs 42,000 and now she feels cheated with Nord selling Rs 17,000 cheaper with similar configuration barring the eighth and the seventh generation Qualcomm Snapdragon’s chipsets. In terms of camera, OnePlus Nord has a total of six lenses whereas the OnePlus 8 has only four, and that makes a difference for millennials.

Elaborating the COVID19 scenario, “I don’t think so. You can’t design a product, especially which looks complete prima facie, in just such a short span.  Also, breaking into a new segment is a strategic decision that isn’t taken overnight.  So, I don’t subscribe to it being an aftereffect of Covid-19. I would more believe it an attempt of OnePlus to widen its sales horizon,” added Faisal.

Competition

Upasana feels, “This series will be expected to fuel more volumes for OnePlus, targeting the youth, upgraders from low-end segment devices, and consumers aspiring for flagship type features at much affordable pricing. However, OnePlus to face competition from other China-based vendors and Samsung which have similar/better offerings in less than INR30K segment especially with advanced SDM 845/855 series and storage variants like 6GB/128GB which is a new norm in INR20-30K segment.”

If you look deep into the specifications of OnePlus Nord you will realise that it has nothing extraordinary or something which wasn’t seen before. It’s just pure marketing on the entire social mediums available that made people talk about it. You could imagine, just two days after the launch, e-commerce platform, Amazon, its long-standing partner since the last six years in India, came with a report that OnePlus Nord is the most sought after smartphone on its platform. The 6GB/64GB at Rs 25,000 minus expandable storage is a deal-breaker for youths. You can also get Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 at a similar price which is any day a much better and improved chipset than 765G. Do not count the 5G factor yet, it’s completely out of the equation at the moment in India. Another question arises on the availability of the base model. You can only get it somewhere in September.

“In India, 25-30k price band is right now going through intense competition.  While Vivo and Oppo are trying to establish themselves in it and Vivo has considerably been able to achieve this, many others like Xiaomi, Realme are flocking among Chinese brands.  By that dynamics, yes there is a tough turf.  However, whenever any premium brand enters a relatively affordable segment, it becomes much easier for it to make a substantial move as there is some aspirational equity. Also, people in the affordable segment get some sense of pride in owning a brand which was so far only accessible to premium segment.  So, it essentially helps consumers position with a segment notch-up.  I think that will work for OnePlus positively,” Faisal concludes.

OnePlus has definitely created a niche for itself. The brand works as a bridge between luxury and mid-range buyers. The brand perception is positive among buyers and that’s only because of their product offerings and quality. OnePlus has become synonymous with an overall complete smartphone with a bit of everything packed at a decent price which Indians can afford.

Competition has been around for a while but, OnePlus did not seem distracted. Samsung is yet to eat into the territories of OnePlus rather it has been the opposite. Oppo, Vivo, and Realme are not a threat to OnePlus. Xiaomi plays on a large scale and hence it has all the BBK-owned companies to fight for plus Samsung.

Conclusion

OnePlus Nord could be a marketing gimmick but, when a premium brand goes affordable people will flock for it. Critics may like it or not but, millennials will definitely vouch for Nord. The anti-China sentiment could be a factor at the moment but, that we rarely see when it comes to smartphones. The ‘affordable’ Nord is a strategically placed smartphone to counter the pandemic blues.

Haider is an avid writer on technology who loves to try new innovations. He holds a degree in English Journalism from the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi. Besides that, he likes to travel and explore new places.

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