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OnePlus Employing VR For Follow-Up Phone Debut

Updated! Shenzhen, China – We’ve all heard about virtual reality’s potential to revolutionize gaming and porn.

Now smartphone upstart OnePlus is making even more novel use of VR.

For those unfamiliar, OnePlus is a favorite of mobile fanboys for producing last year’s unlocked OnePlus One, a superbly-crafted, self-described “flagship killer” laden with top-flight specs, the CynaogenMod OS, and available direct from the manufacturer for $300 or less.

An offshoot of video industry darling Oppo, OnePlus was co-founded in 2013 under the motto “Never Settle” by former Oppo execs Pete Lau and Carl Pei, who embraced the same high-quality, low-cost imperative of their forebear.

 To keep prices down, the pair tightly controlled inventory by selling direct to enthusiasts via an invite system, and eschewed conventional marketing in favor of an active user forum and all the social media levers they could muster.

Now, on the eve of their second smartphone introduction, the step-up OnePlus 2, Pete and Carl have created a blogosphere frenzy with a steady stream of sneak-peek sketches, teaser specs and Reddit-chat design clues.

It all culminates tonight (10 p.m. EST, 7 p.m. PST) with a formal launch event that forgoes the traditional seated audience, media elite, and hip, urban meeting space.

Instead, the OnePlus 2 will be brought to you in living virtual reality, streamed over the web via a specially-devised app. When coupled with a Google Cardboard VR headset or OnePlus’ own free, limited-quantity viewer, participants can expect to be plunged into what is billed as “The world’s first product launch in virtual reality.”

While the OnePlus 2 brings its own impressive set of specs (5.5-inch screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM, 3,300 mAh battery, 13MP camera, USB Type-C port, and under-$450 price tag), the phone could be overshadowed by the launch event itself, as the implications of, and applications for, immersive webcasts are compelling. Think classroom instruction, driving lessons, navigation, conversation, and all manner of trainings.

I for one will be in attendance tonight, more than willing to risk the scorn of wife and kids as I cradle a cardboard box to my head. Not just for a sweeping 360-degree view of a hot new superphone, but for a fleeting glimpse of the future.

Addendum: Okay, so I watched the 30-minute-or-so webcast last night and I was blown away. (Please excuse the fawning, it was my first extended VR experience.) I was in my living room, and I was also in OnePlus headquarters in Shenzhen.

Co-founder Carl Pei walked me through his offices as employees whizzed by on skateboards and went about their business. Clad in T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, he introduced me to his partner and CEO Pete Lau; spoke with some trial users and Qualcomm marketing VP Tim McDonough; revealed some “Easter Egg” purchase invitations; and introduced the phone.

Oh yeah, the phone. Dandy update, with a brighter display, sharper camera, a fingerprint reader, and a magnesium/aluminum frame, all for $389 (64GB model).

Turns out OnePlus will also be in New York and San Francisco this Friday with pop-up stores and demo product. But you can save yourself the trip – just cradle a cardboard box to your head.