Yesterday, OnePlus revealed the details of the upcoming OnePlus 2 smartphone to the world, but in a very unique way. Unlike practically every other product reveal, ever, OnePlus didn't take to the stage to present the phone. Instead, the company used some creative thinking to make the experience a little more personal by hosting a virtual reality product launch.
What does that mean? Well, I can tell you it wasn't what I had been expecting.
We've known for a while now that OnePlus had been planning this virtual reality reveal. The company gave away thousands of free OnePlus-branded Google Cardboard viewers several weeks ago in preparation for the event. OnePlus wanted as many fans to be able to experience what it had in store for July 27, and made every effort to make it accessible.
An Android-based smartphone was all that was required to watch the event, and to watch it in VR, you only needed a Cardboard-compatible viewer. Thanks to my review sample of the C1Glass, I was able to experience the event in true virtual reality. I had the Cardboard app installed, and the OnePlus 2 Launch app ready to go.
But at 7pm EST, when the show was about to start, I found out the hard way that an Android phone is not all you need. My Samsung S4 wasn't able to buffer the video at all when it went live. (Interesting note: It worked fine the following day.)
Fortunately, I was able to borrow my girlfriend's S6. Even better for me, the video turned out to not be a live event -- it was pre-recorded. After downloading and installing the Cardboard and OnePlus 2 VR Launch apps on her phone, I was delighted to find out that the video started over for me. In fact, you can still go watch it now (with the app).
When the video first starts, you're greeted by Carl Pie, one of OnePlus's co-founders. He's standing in the lobby at OnePlus headquarters. The camera is positioned to make it feel like you are there with him, and it allows you to pan your head in any direction to get a full 360-degree view of the surroundings. After a brief introduction, he begins to walk through the office as you follow along. The office was filled with busy employees as "you" and Carl tour the facility.
While wandering through the halls, he remarks that as children we dream that "If I was in charge, I would do it better" and notes that to a child, a blanket can turn you into a superhero. Carl goes on to say, "We've done a lot of crazy things, because no one told us we couldn't." To him, this launch is for the fans. The OnePlus community has been around since before there was a product to sell, and the company loves to show its appreciation of those people.
After a brief walk down the hallways, the video transitions to a different room. Here you're seated in a group with four other people. Three of these people are OnePlus fans who were chosen to spend a week with OnePlus trying out the new phone. They talk about the features they like the most, and their experience with the phone. Carl walks in a moment after the discussion starts and proceeds to ask a few questions. It felt like being part of the conversation, even though I wasn't contributing.
OnePlus included a video reel that played after the conversation with fans. The video is 2D, projected onto the wall of a 3D room. It includes some images of the new phone and some statements from fans around the world, talking about what they hope to see from the OnePlus 2.
After the video is finished, you meet up with Carl again. This time he is in what looks to be a break room. He's there with Pete Lau, CEO and co-founder of OnePlus, who goes on to speak about some of the hardware design. Later, there's a briefing in a conference room, where Carl is speaking with a representative from Qualcomm about the Snapdragon 810 processor.
This part of the experience was a little bit strange. The Qualcomm rep wasn't actually in the room, but on a video conference system.
In the next scene, Carl finally talks about the features of the phone and demonstrates some of them. He shows the reversible USB Type-C plug, as well as the patented reversible Type-A plug, in action. He gives a brief demonstration of the ringtone slider and a scripted example of why you'd need it (the employee sitting next to him receives a call while Carl was speaking to the camera). Two more employees then show how quickly the faceplates can be replaced.
Throughout the product demonstration, as well as the feature reveal that followed, the company made use of augmented reality-type pop-up bubbles that would show information and graphics. The names of people speaking hovered over them for a few seconds to help identify everyone. It made the experience feel a lot more futuristic. Had it just been a 360-degree camera and nothing else, it wouldn't have been so interesting to watch.
OnePlus really enjoys involving the community, and it appreciates those who participate even more. As a reward for the earliest supporters of the company, invites to purchase a OnePlus 2 have already started to trickle out, and some were even given during the event. The keen observer probably noticed the URLs scattered around the office during the video. To my knowledge, these were first come/first serve invites for the phone. If you try one now, you'll get this message:
So, what are my thoughts on the OnePlus 2 VR Launch event? I thought it was very interesting. I think as a first attempt at this sort of thing, the company did a great job, and I would be shocked if we never see another one like it. As these sorts of technologies become more and more popular, and in the hands of more individuals, it's only natural that more and more uses for it will arise.
OnePlus 2 showed the world that a product can indeed be launched with a VR event. It's a refreshing take on how to interact with fans and customers. I can't wait to see who comes out with the next one, but what I really want to know is, when can I experience a product launch like this that allows me to walk around, not just follow along on rails. This event with an HTC Vive, for example, would be mind-blowing.
update, 07/29/2015, 11:03am: OnePlus has published the VR launch video in 360-degrees on YouTube. Now you can watch it, even if you don't have an Android phone.