Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus plans to move beyond mobile devices for the first time ever with a new product: The OnePlus TV.
OnePlus founder Pete Lau says his vision is to make a TV with seamless connectivity to a user's smartphone. He also wants to add the functionality of a smart AI assistant, similar to Amazon's Alexa or the Google Assistant, but with more of a visual element.
The OnePlus TV is in the early stages of development, and could be launched next year. It will take post-release software updates to fully realize its vision, though, says the company.
Right now, OnePlus is best-known for its low-cost, high-powered smartphones — at $530, its current-model OnePlus 6 is half the cost of an Apple iPhone X, but almost as powerful.
For almost five years, the only products sold by OnePlus were its well-regarded line of affordable, high-end smartphones, and the accessories that go with them.
The Chinese smartphone company has built up a loyal customer base, who follow each new release with a fervor that can only be compared to Apple fans at the launch of a new iPhone. Few Android phones, if any, get city block-spanning lines of prospective buyers when a new model comes out. But OnePlus does, and did.
On Sunday, the company is announcing that it'll be expanding its product lineup into TVs, bringing OnePlus beyond smartphones for the first time ever.
It's perhaps an unexpected move, but many OnePlus smartphone users have already asked the company why it doesn't make a TV, OnePlus founder Pete Lau told Business Insider in a phone interview, speaking via an interpreter. And while many details on the TV are still unclear, Lau says that OnePlus is thinking big with the new product.
"At present, we feel the current market of TVs is still feeling quite traditional in their functionality and experience. And they haven’t really well-integrated the internet into the experience, and making the experience match with what would be expected in today’s connected society," Lau said regarding the current state of smart TVs.
As for a release date, Lau is cautiously hopeful that OnePlus will release its first TV in 2019, with software updates gradually making it smarter and more connected over the five years following the launch. In other words, Lau expects it to take some time for the product to live up to its full promise.
"This will have to be a process that proceeds step by step. It wont be something that’s perfect and absolutely complete and revolutionary from the start. So we can’t get everyone’s hopes up too soon," Lau said.
Rethinking the TV
We also don't know what kind of specs to expect in the OnePlus TV, including whether or not it'll come with 4K resolution or HDR (high dynamic range for enhanced colors and contrast). But Lau says that OnePlus is building a premium, flagship TV, and promises it'll have specs to match.
For now, Lau wants to talk about the company's vision for a TV. In a world where artificial intelligence (AI)-powered assistants and smart speakers are increasingly common, Lau believes that connected TVs can feel a little stale in terms of their potential.
To begin with, the OnePlus TV is going to be smart, Lau says. But Lau's vision is to evolve the typical smart TVs, and he wants to make them smarter and better connected to smartphones, still the primary device in many people's lives.
With a OnePlus TV, Lau wants to bring the best of all worlds. He envisions the TV as having seamless connectivity between your smartphone and TV, as well as the type of AI smarts and assistive functionality offered by devices like Amazon's Echo and Google's Home.
That means beaming photos and home videos to your TV without needing to worry about a clunky app or third-party service. It also means showing you useful information like your upcoming calendar events, suggestions for departure times for your daily commute, and the ability to arrange transportation to and from a destination. This is just a small example of what Lau thinks OnePlus could do with TVs, he says.
At this stage in the OnePlus TV's development, Lau didn't say which company's AI will be used to power the OnePlus TV, but he does say that OnePlus is in talks with major industry players to support current connected-home ecosystems.
Essential to the OnePlus TV experience will also be a built-in camera, says Lau. To concerns that having a camera on a TV could be a home-privacy nightmare, Lau reassures prospective buyers: "We have this in mind, and we will have a solution."
The competitive field
Some examples of this kind of AI/TV integration exist already. Notably, Amazon sells Fire Edition TVs by Toshiba and Element, which come with Alexa built-in and display similar information. Google, too, has increasingly integrated its Chromecast streaming devices with its Google Assistant, allowing you to display the weather and other information on your connected TV.
Speaking of Amazon, it already makes a device that sounds somewhat similar to what OnePlus is cooking up. The Amazon Echo Show is an Alexa-powered device with a screen and a camera, displaying calendar appointments, the weather, and other information. But the TV is the centerpiece of your home, and Lau wants to bring intelligence there, rather than make a separate device.
In true OnePlus fashion, however, Lau says that the company will solicit ideas from the community on what features and functionalities it wants from a TV — an approach that's served it well in the past.
What makes OnePlus different
Perhaps what will help differentiate the OnePlus TV is the company's philosophy towards product design.
To anyone who's not familiar with OnePlus devices, the company has made its name by building high-end devices — with premium design, materials, build quality, specs, and software — for a price that won't decimate your bank account.
For reference, the most recent $530 OnePlus 6 smartphone easily contends with devices that cost nearly twice as much, including Apple's flagship $999 iPhone X.
"Our users have acknowledged the excellence in the OnePlus build quality across our smartphone devices, so we have that reputation and acknowledgement," Lau said
To be clear, Lau and OnePlus have just begun the long process to making and selling a OnePlus TV, and the company is still in the very early stages of development — hence the lack of specific details, or a solid launch date.
"We have just gotten started," Lau said.
Even so, Lau wants to be clear that OnePlus is taking this seriously, and that the die has been cast: The OnePlus TV is the next big thing for the company.
"We want to be clear and make it well known that this decision has been made and we are going to make this product," Lau said.