When Oppo vice president Pete Lau resigned last month, the timing was almost puzzling. Lau had just helped to bring CyanogenMod onto the company's new handset, the N1, finally pairing Oppo's high-end specs and sleek design with software that could create what enthusiasts might see as the perfect package. But even then, Lau wasn't satisfied. "Everyone should have access to the best and latest technology," Lau tells The Verge in an email.
"The Nexus line has taught consumers that it's possible to purchase phones online."
Lau is now launching a new company that aims to make that a reality. He's calling it OnePlus, and its goal is to create Lau's dream smartphone — one that marries fast, high-end hardware with equally high-end design. "We will create a more beautiful and higher quality product," Lau says. "We will never be different just for the sake of being different. Everything done has to improve the actual user experience in day-to-day use."
For years, building a smartphone was only a possibility for the biggest of tech companies, but more and more small manufacturers have begun throwing their hats in the ring — from Jolla, to Blu Products, to Yota Devices. OnePlus is the latest in that ilk of small manufacturers, and it has a similar outlook: it doesn't aim to use cheap components, just to cut down on cost by carefully choosing where it spends money. For OnePlus, those costs will be cut out by eschewing retail stores for online sales. "The Nexus line has taught consumers that it’s possible to purchase phones online," Lau says. "This is good for latecomers like us." OnePlus plans to get started by releasing a smartphone in the first half of next year, but everything from wearables to mobile accessories could follow from there.
What that first phone will look like is still a mystery though. Google+ posts by Lau and CyanogenMod founder Steve Kondik suggest that CyanogenMod could come bundled, but Lau isn't saying much for now. "Getting to know Steve, I feel we share the same philosophy – we both just want to create the best product, no matter what," Lau says. "I believe that there are more opportunities for us to work together in the future." OnePlus' phones will be running on Android, but he won't say if any customizations will come on top.
Small companies that came before OnePlus have already proven that it's possible for them to build an attractive smartphone at an equally attractive price. Whether OnePlus can actually build one that'll make consumers forget about Best Buy or their local wireless store and head online is another question. "A lot of the phones on the market aren't perfect enough," Lau says. "This is where our chance lies."
David Pierce contributed to this report.