Carl Pei isn’t afraid to name his enemy. Teasing his startup’s first phone today, the Nothing Phone(1), he said he’s specifically out to get Apple.
“We’re building the most compelling alternative to Apple,” he said on a launch livestream. “If you want products that connect and work seamlessly together, the only choice is Apple. As soon as you leave that ecosystem for a Windows PC or an Android phone, it breaks down. There is no alternative to Apple.”
One of the founders of Android phone maker OnePlus, Pei left OnePlus in 2020 to start Nothing, which has so far released one product, the well-received Ear(1) earbuds.
Nothing will be the antidote to boring technology, “skepticism [and] apathy,” Pei said. It will “bring optimism back so technology can stand for progress again.” That’s a high bar, but “if we don’t try, consumer tech stays stagnant.”
As befits any company trying to go by the Apple playbook, the reality distortion field is strong here. David Ruddock, a longtime Android watcher who now works for Esper.io, sees Nothing calling a fight with Apple as a straight-up marketing play.
Nothing vs. Apple: The Challenge
Nothing’s strength will be in integrating different pieces of technology, Pei said, but its plans promise peril. Apple’s strength is that it integrates with its own first-party products, or with vendors that pointedly kowtow to Apple. It makes its own chipsets and runs all its own OSes.
Nothing promises a “different and open ecosystem” with “a choice to use your favorite brands instead of being forced into a closed range of products.” Samsung and Microsoft haven’t been able to make this quite happen with far more resources than Nothing, as they have struggled with the messy roadblocks of dealing with partner software and hardware they don’t control.
Pei’s vision of seamless, well-designed technology working together reminds me of something I heard from his OnePlus co-founder, Pete Lau, in 2018. At the time, Lau talked about OnePlus’s TVs becoming a connectivity and lifestyle hub for your home, sewing all of your various electronics and services together.
That did not happen. The OnePlus TV is just an Android TV, Pei left the company, and nothing has yet come of Lau’s lifestyle-hub dreams.
The Nothing Phone(1)’s home screen.
Nothing Phone (1): Design and Features
Pei loves a tease, and the only actual spec he gave about the Phone (1) is that it’ll run a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. (Samsung will also somehow be involved; he didn’t explain how.) He released an image associated with the phone that’s designed to encourage speculation, and people are now speculating on Twitter about it.
Nothing’s consciously retro, dot-matrix aesthetic is fed by its design partners at Teenage Engineering, which also developed the similarly retro-futuristic Playdate gaming handheld and a line of well-regarded hipster synthesizers.
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He did show off some of the software. The “Nothing OS” Android skin will “remove the bloatware” and have a “smooth and uniform experience” where apps “load and close super fast,” Pei said. The phone will receive three years of OS updates and four years of security updates.
The phone’s dot-matrix-style weather widget.
There’s a dot-matrix aesthetic across the Nothing phone’s screens, and Pei pointed out distinct design choices, such as keeping the clock in the same location from the always-on display, through the lock screen, and onto the home screen. The phone’s audio recorder app has a retro-future vibe with a tape “wheel” you can turn.
Android phone owners will be able to download a Nothing launcher in April, which will give them a flavor of the platform, the company says.
Nothing Phone (1): Price and Release Date
We are going to have to hang on until summer to learn more about the Phone (1), including if it will be released in the US. There’s no word on price or network compatibility yet.
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