At T-Mobile’s flagship store in Times Square, a line of hundreds of people deep trailed far around the corner and down the street, coming to a stop right before the famed Richard Rodgers Theatre, where a different set of fans would assemble in a few hours to see Hamilton. New York City is a beacon for enthusiasts, and today, they queued at a carrier store to be the first to see (and buy) a OnePlus 7 Pro.
It’s the kind of scene you used to see at Apple Stores – a decade ago, anyway.
In the Tim Cook era, Apple has allowed consumers to pre-order their new iPhones for home delivery. While certainly more convenient, this neutered the formerly-rabid crowds that showed up hours and days ahead of time to get first crack at Apple’s new phones. It was a thing, an event. Now you watch a livestream and click a button on a website.
Perhaps this is for the best, or at least most cost-efficient, ensuring supply meets demand without over- or under-stocking physical storefronts and risking customer outrage. Such a strategy likely reduces supply chain costs, which Cook is famous for streamlining in his time at Apple. In any case, Apple gets hype enough on its own to be one of, if not the, wealthiest companies on the planet.
OnePlus seems only too happy to fill this role. In the US, it doesn’t have nearly as much brand recognition as Samsung, Google or Apple – and yet, fans show up in droves to each launch.
The line to check out the new #OnePlus7Pro at T-Mobile’s Times Square store wrapped far around the corner and down the block — down to Richard Rodgers Theatre where Hamilton runs pic.twitter.com/TdnphHArAtMay 14, 2019
The company has cultivated a energized community since its first OnePlus phone with shrewd precision – early handsets could only be bought by consumers who were invited, expanding its following through word of mouth. The hype susurrous led OnePlus to open sales to everyone, but it continues to stoke the fire with inclusive language, executive messages addressed to fans, and no shortage of branded merchandise that its community covets, from pins to backpacks.
This isn’t exactly how Apple garnered its loyalist consumer base, nor is OnePlus following directly in the footsteps of the House of Mac. But the company owes some of its success and foothold in the US to consumers who fill its halls to see a new phone that, like most handsets these days, minorly differs from the one before it.
It would be wrong to paint them all as diehards, either. Speaking with a couple in line, one noted he’d been coming to opening purchase days since the OnePlus 5; the other said he’d only recently heard of the brand doing research for a new phone and decided to come to the launch event before heading out to the T-Mobile store. Did they all come to buy? Not necessarily – but they liked that the phone was good, and cheap.
Despite the OnePlus 7 Pro rising in base price to $669 over its predecessor’s original $549, it’s still notably more affordable than even the cheapest flagship smartphones. And assuming you don't mind signing up for T-Mobile (the only carrier selling OnePlus, though others support it), you can get it on contract.
In other words, OnePlus is luring fans in a different way than Apple, with affordable power rather than style and function. But once they come, they’ll find a crowd of converts, and a company eager to reach out to them.
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