This weekend I wrote a review of the One, a smartphone made by a Chinese manufacturing startup called OnePlus.
It’s a really nice phone with a giant 5.5-inch screen and powerful specs that rival what you’d find in an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. What’s really cool is OnePlus sells all that for $300, or less than half the cost of an iPhone 5S, which starts at $649.
The catch? Quantities are extremely limited, and you need an invitation before you can buy a One directly from OnePlus.
(Before you ask: No, I don’t have any invitations to buy the OnePlus One.)
But that hasn’t stopped readers from emailing me about the device like crazy. I’ve written dozens and dozens of gadget reviews over the years, and I’ve never gotten a response like this.
Every few minutes another email hits my inbox with a reader asking if I can provide an invitation or an introduction to the company so he or she could get a One. (Sorry, I really can’t help you!)
Still, I think the reader interest in the OnePlus One taps into something important.
Smartphones have become cheap enough to make that some manufacturers are willing to sell them for next to nothing in order to gain rapid adoption and market share. We’ve already seen it with Xiaomi, another Chinese startup that makes high quality Android phones and sells them for just a few hundred bucks.
Consumers seem to be waking up to the fact that they don’t need to break the bank to get a premium smartphone experience. Apple and Samsung may be happy reaping the profits of the high end of the smartphone market, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to court the billions of people left in the world who want to start using smartphones without spending too much.
OnePlus and Xiaomi aren’t alone.
Last week, Google announced a new program called Android One, which will make it possible for manufacturers in emerging markets like India to make smartphones that cost just $100. With Android One, Google did most of the work by creating basic smartphone hardware designs that any manufacturer can use.
Microsoft has a similar strategy for Windows Phone. In the spring, it launched a new version of its mobile operating system Windows Phone 8 that can run on incredibly cheap hardware, including phones that were originally designed for Android.
If anything, this trend is a big threat to Samsung, the company that ships more smartphones than anyone else, mostly thanks to Android. It seems like Samsung’s competitors are figuring out how to make affordable Android that are just as good, if not better, than what Samsung makes.
If the trend continues, Samsung could see its mobile business undercut by scrappy startups like Xiaomi and OnePlus.
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