Why OnePlus and Samsung Galaxy should be worried about the Nothing Phone
The Nothing Phone has the potential to be the most intriguing thing to hit Android in years.
Carl Pei has nothing to announce. The co-founder of OnePlus has a new phone, the Nothing Phone 1, and while details are currently scarce, it's clear that the entrepreneur intends to make a big splash in the best smartphone world.
That should worry Pei's former employer OnePlus, as well as Samsung and even Apple because Nothing is aimed at them. If you think smartphones are starting to look the same, the Nothing Phone 1 could spice things up and entice some of their traditional buyers.
Nothing's goal, according to Pei, is to effectively do what Apple and Dyson do: have a suite of products with a very distinct visual identity and to stand out in a market that is becoming increasingly homogeneous. Nothing, according to Pei, should stand out from the best Samsung Galaxy phones and best iPhones.
Nothing's design director is former Dyson design lead Adam Bates, who brought much of his old team with him, according to Pei, "so we probably have one of the best industrial design teams in the world."
Nothing, in my opinion, has the potential to be, well, something.
WHY NOTHING MATTERS
It is critical to consider the design. It's why Dyson can charge a premium for almost everything it produces, and it's a big reason Apple became the phenomenon that it is today. Consider the iPod: Its specs weren't as good as competitors, but it was so much better designed; the iPhone lacked some key features but sold like hotcakes. In both cases, you weren't purchasing a spec sheet; you were purchasing the entire experience, from the packaging to the user interface.
If you look at Android right now, you'll notice that a lot of companies are selling spec sheets. I'm an iPhone user, and it's difficult for me to tell one Android phone from another: they all look the same, have the same if slightly tweaked Android, and have essentially the same specs for each essentially similar price. That's fine, but it doesn't make the heart sing. So I'd love to see a company come in with a bold, design-first approach to the entire thing: the hardware, the operating system, and the entire ecosystem.
Is that all there is? It's difficult to say. Nothing is currently a one-product company, producing impressive earbuds known as "Ear (1)." We like them a lot: in our Nothing Ear (1) Buds, we stated that "you won't find a better pair of affordable noise-canceling buds" when they launch in late 2021. The pitch is straightforward: great design, great specs, and a great price.
Nothing will be an ecosystem play, and the Nothing Phone will be a critical component of that: it will serve as the hub around which other Nothing products will revolve. Rather than producing a slew of different Nothing Phones to cater to every conceivable market demographic, it appears that the Nothing Phone 1 will be a single model – presumably with a great design, a great spec, and a great price. Nothing hopes that by creating all of its own products, it will be able to provide the same kind of seamless interactions as the current crop of Apple mobile and Mac devices.
Should we believe the marketing hype? For the time being, no: we won't see the actual phone until the summer, and until then, there's nothing to show that Nothing will deliver on its promises.
And we've been here before: Andy Rubin's Essential Phone, now discontinued, will be remembered only for pioneering the notch; the brand has since been sold – to Nothing.
But, as good as the latest Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhones are, the magic of a new release is nowhere near what it was 5 to 10 years ago – and Nothing has the potential to rekindle that.