Peace out

Exclusive: OnePlus CMO Kyle Kiang is leaving the company on April 2

Kiang is the latest in a string of high-profile departures from OnePlus as the tech company pivots away from only making flagship phones to a wider portfolio of devices including budget devices and a smartwatch.

MUMBAI, INDIA - MAY 17: Kyle Kiang, Global Head of Marketing, OnePlus, poses during an interview wit...
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It’s the end of another era at OnePlus. Chief marketing officer Kyle Kiang, who has been instrumental in growing the Chinese brand into a global powerhouse, is leaving on April 2, Input has confirmed.

The news comes days after OnePlus launched its OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro and OnePlus Watch. The OnePlus 9 Pro has received praise for its Hasselblad camera upgrade, but it’s also raised concerns about where the brand is headed. Namely, whether or not OnePlus is becoming too Samsung-like.

Kiang is the latest in a string of high-profile departures at OnePlus — telltale signs the company might be headed in a very different direction from its original mission to create and sell premium phones at affordable prices that undercut the competition. Kiang has been with OnePlus since 2015 and was one of several key faces of the brand who often took the stage at launch events.

OnePlus confirmed Kiang’s departure and shared the following statement with Input

Kiang is moving on from OnePlus to explore new opportunities and his last day will be April 2nd. He will always be a good friend of the company and we wish him the best of luck in all his future endeavors.

Input’s sources tell us Kiang is sticking around to help with transitioning the marketing team as he prepares to leave in the coming days. Sources weren’t able to share where Kiang’s going beyond that he’s “exploring several opportunities.”

Few CMOs are remembered in the consumer tech industry, with most being unmemorable mouthpieces who share little genuine passion for their company’s products. Kiang has been a refreshing figure in the cutthroat mobile space in that, as a big geek himself, he spoke to enthusiasts instead of down to them.

This transparency and directness at launch events, and his humbleness and willingness to admit company missteps to media and users at events, helped OnePlus rapidly accrue a large and loyal follower base. Community is what built OnePlus; users felt heard because he (and the brand) really did listen to needs and complaints at a ground level — a rarity from a tech company.

Change is afoot — Kiang’s soon-to-be departure comes six months after OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei left in September. Pei’s sudden exit sent a shockwave throughout the community and has suggested that major changes are afoot internally.

Pei has since founded Nothing, a new London-based tech company with a long-term vision to create a “future where technology is so advanced and seamlessly integrated into our lives that it feels like nothing, yet is everywhere.” Nothing teased its first product, transparent wireless earbuds designed by Swedish tech brand Teenage Engineering, earlier this month.

Prior to Pei leaving OnePlus, the company lost several top-level communications members in 2020 who had been with the company since the very early days and were also crucial to defining the brand’s premium, but transparent global image.

While we don’t expect OnePlus to reel back on the amount of social hyping and teasing for its products, we do wonder if this is a turning point for the brand. Is this the moment when OnePlus becomes more buttoned-up in its quest to go beyond making “flagship killer” phones? The recent launch of the Nord N10 5G and Nord N100 highlights the company’s willingness to cater to a broader customer base with budget devices that fly in the face of the brand’s “Never Settle” motto.

Expanding its phone portfolio with the budget Nord line might rub OnePlus’ diehard enthusiasts the wrong way — especially with the company’s commitment to only two years of OS updates — but it may help add to the company’s bottom line. Consumer Reports just crowned both the N10 and N100 phones as its picks for best budget phones for 2021. Of course, we’ve yet to see data on how well these devices are selling, especially at U.S. carriers.

OnePlus over? — I wouldn’t say that. Is OnePlus growing up and becoming a different beast? Absolutely. The impacts of all these departures over the last year have certainly raised the alarm at OnePlus. But with the OnePlus 9 series releasing and a new smartwatch — a first for the company — the product roadmap at least remains on track for the time being.

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