LG should learn a thing or two from OnePlus' success

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
LG should learn a thing or two from OnePlus' success
In the past 5 years, we've witnessed a pretty impressive success story. A company named OnePlus rose amidst the frenzy of a saturated smartphone market and said: "Hey... we are here to kill your flagships." Its mission was simple: offer a great phone with top-tier specs at a much affordable price than the established competition. Then rely on word of mouth and guerilla marketing to go mini viral.

You'd think that such a company would stay in the shadows, only known to the hardcore smartphone fandom out there. But nope — OnePlus has slowly but surely made its way to the mainstream and even partnered with US carrier T-Mobile to sell its phones. And sure, the "flagship killer" may have gone up in price over the years, but it is still decidedly cheaper than its more popular competitors all the while offering features that not many others have!

On the other end of what this article is about is LG — a company that was doing OK in the smartphone market until it wasn't. The LG G3 was probably its last hit. Then, it was a slow ride the downwards spiral, off of the 3rd spot for smartphone sales in the US and into... well, kind of "meh" territory.

So, what happened? How can a company that just now enters the market make such great strides while an established manufacturer, which also happens to be this multi-business mega-corporation, somehow manages to fall off the respectable 3rd best spot? It seems that the answer is "focus"

Stay on target!

OnePlus has had a very clear mission since it launched — make the best phone that you can for as little money as possible. This philosophy extended beyond the product itself, it also showed in the way the company interacted with fans and the rest of the world. There was a lot of teasing, a lot of viral campaigns started with simple social media posts, a lot of boasting and cleverly-placed product teasing. It was clear that OnePlus' efforts were focused on one thing only — make good phone, sell phone good.

Yes, there were a few hiccups along the way, a few bad lemons, and a misstep with the OnePlus X. But the company was able to get out of hot waters by simply making its next models better and better, even including features that the top-tier competition does not have yet. Like the under-the-glass fingerprint scanner of the OnePlus 6T, which arrived long before the big boys in the Western markets had it. Or the motorized camera of the current OnePlus 7 Pro, which is still a very rare thing to see.

LG, in the meantime, can't seem to decide what it wants to do. First, it experimented with curved phones — the technology that made the banana shape of the LG G Flex possible also made it to the LG G4. But the company was quick to give up on that technology despite having worked on it for years.

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A few months after the G4 launched, we had the first V series — the LG V10, which was a phablet meant to go toe to toe with Samsung's Note series. The V phones had that "ticker screen" — a thin strip-shaped secondary display on top of the main one, which showed extra information or gave you more app shortcuts. 2 generations later, the ticker screen was scrapped from the V series.

We got the LG G5, which was supposed to be a part of the "LG Playground" — a whole ecosystem of mods and accessories revolving around the phone. The main concept was that the G5 would have easy swap modules that add extra features or functions to the phone. Well, that died in less than a year — no partners joined the program, no new modules were released and LG quickly lost interest.

Then, we had the LG G6 and LG G7 — not bad phones at all. Great all-rounders and probably the only mainstream phones of their time that had an ultra-wide angle camera on the back. Meanwhile, the V series kind of transformed into "Plus" versions of the G phones, throwing product differentiation out the window and causing one series to cannibalize the other. Fans were looking forward to the next LG V phone and kind of yawned at the flagship G series.

Now, we have the LG G8 whose only differentiator in the market is that weird gesture system, which allows you to wave your hand in front of the phone and have it launch an app... if it's in the right mood for it to work that is! And the upcoming LG V50, which is so close to a G8 that LG had to give it a 5G modem, just so it can be different from its sibling.

See what's going on here? Lots of running around in circles, trying to do this and that, but no coherent vision. No point, no focus — it's just stuff that's been added in the phones and then forsaken because it didn't seem to stick.

As a result, there's no identity to speak of. Modules? Nah, we decided we don't want to do them no more. Liked the ticker screen? Sorry, we didn't. Did you like our back-mounted volume rocker? Sorry, we thought we'd make our phones as mundane as possible so we scrapped this signature design trait.

Build an identity and embrace it

Over the years, OnePlus has added plenty of features to its phones. They are now quite far away from the "stock Android experience" that they used to be when the OnePlus One launched. But every one of these features was added with care — the company made sure that they would be useful, appreciated by the customer, and it also made sure to market them to the moon and back. Most of this marketing was done with giveaway competitions, well-placed influencer campaigns, and proper teasing of the new features through fun posts.

The point is, OnePlus focuses on making phones that are great all-rounders and deliver the essentials. No excessive bells and whistles, but fast performance and just overall a pleasant experience when using the device. This is what the company chose to do, this is what it markets, and this is what it sells.

In the meantime, LG is spending money left and right to develop things that simply lead to nowhere — the Flex technology, the modular technology, the ticker screens, and who knows what else will follow? How long do you figure it will take for the new gesture controls to go bye-bye? Or maybe LG will finally switch to stereo speakers and bid farewell to the Boombox speakers next year around?

See, the thing is, if you remove all these things that LG is constantly dabbling in, you actually get pretty solid phones. The LG G5, G6, and G7 were great, fast, and pleasant to use. The V30 was probably at the top of the most underrated phones of 2017 and the V40 was a worthy successor. They had amazing ergonomics and some of the best haptics on an Android phone, right up there with the Pixel 3 and the recent OnePlus 7 Pro.

In other words, your regular top-tier LG phone is as much of an all-around great device as a OnePlus. But the customers don't know that... The customers see advertisements for features they don't need, don't understand, or don't know if they would last over to the next generation. The current LG smartphone identity is non-existent and there's simply nothing coherent to market.

So, there's a lesson LG can take from OnePlus. Its phones are actually great, but it needs to trust its products for what they are and ease off on developing gimmicks that it'll drop next year. Hey, maybe use that time and money to actually support the existing products, get that Software Update Center working, eh?

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