The OnePlus 5 and 5T handsets have been a pleasant surprise from the Chinese smartphone company, and while it is gaining name recognition around the world, it still needs to break into the U.S. market. CEO Pete Lau said he hopes talks will begin this year.
"If the right opportunity and right timing come along, we'll be very happy to experiment," he told CNET through co-founder Carl Pei, who acted as translator while at CES.
Analysts have estimated that between 85 and 90 percent of customers in the United States buy their smartphones through their wireless providers. Apple and Samsung make up the bulk of U.S. sales for that reason. Chinese company Huawei tried that route right before CES, only to have AT&T back away from a deal at the last minute. The company is now taking the independent route through U.S. retailers.
While Huawei has the benefit of being the world's third-largest smartphone maker, OnePlus is still considered niche, although popular with Android users and those seeking to experiment with new options. The 5T handset was OnePlus's best selling unit to date, mostly sold through the online sales on its website. It only recently began partnering with wireless carriers in Europe.
Lau didn't discuss the next OnePlus phone in any detail, other than saying it would run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 unveiled last month. "Of course, there's no other choice," he said. He refused to say if the new phone would be out this year or not.
Pei also spoke up about the pending beta of a face unlock feature for the OnePlus 3 and 3T devices, a feature currently in the 5T. "There's no reason to withhold features we can easily implement," he said.
Brand awareness will be key. While Huawei has enlisted famous actors and come up with catchy slogans to aid its push into the United States, Lau said OnePlus plans on focusing on the quality behind the components of its handsets. "A lot of our users don't know about the time and resources spent on a phone," he said.
OnePlus may not face quite as much resistance to its move into the United States, given that it wasn't labeled a threat to national security as Huawei was in 2012. But the paths of the two are similar, and they face an uphill battle for the hearts and minds of most U.S. consumers glued to the iPhones or Galaxy devices.
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