We’re cautiously excited about the Nothing (1) Phone here at T3: as I wrote the other day, it could be the most interesting thing to hit Android in years. Its creator, Carl Pei, co-founded OnePlus to shake up the Android phone market back in late 2013, and with the Nothing (1) Phone he intends to do it all over again eight years later.
But eight years is a long time in the smartphone world, and the market has changed quite considerably since the first OnePlus phone launched in 2014. Apple and Samsung are much more dominant now – their combined market share is up from around 35% to around 60% – and the market is more mature, so it’s more difficult for even big names to thrive let alone for a new entrant to come in and do battle.
Where does that leave Nothing?
History doesn't repeat, but sometimes it rhymes
The original pitch for OnePlus is reflected in its slogan: Never Settle. When OnePlus launched, many manufacturers seemed hell-bent on making their Android software as different as possible, often at the cost of usability, and the low to mid range market was full of pretty disappointing models. OnePlus came along as a very distinct alternative: affordability, quality and usability over unnecessary customisation and flashy but unnecessary design features.
It worked for a very long time – right up until 2020, in fact, when as Wired memorably described it, OnePlus appeared to have gone “from flagship killer to flagship maker”. Where the OnePlus One was less than half the price of the iPhone 5S and just over a third of the price of the Galaxy S5, the OnePlus 8 Pro was priced like a premium iPhone or Galaxy. The OnePlus Nord, an apparent attempt to return to the firm’s roots of affordable excellence, was unfortunately timed and the pandemic no doubt hit sales – sales that were already harder because the best cheap phones no longer made you choose between affordability and usability.
Those market conditions will affect the Nothing Phone too. It doesn’t have the scale or the breadth of products that Apple or Samsung offer, and as a new market entrant “good enough” isn’t good enough: to make any kind of dent in the market, you need to deliver something exceptional. And that’s going to be a challenge, because the best Android phones right now are really excellent devices – especially now that most manufacturers have recognised that most of us don’t want them to mess around with the Android UI or apps too much.
That’s a really tough market to break into, and no matter what Nothing ends up launching you’ve got to admire the David vs Goliath story that Nothing is bringing us. And I really do hope the device(s) live up to the already lofty expectations we have for them, and that they turn out to be as clever as their marketing has been so far: anything that makes things more interesting and encourages manufacturers to make even better devices is good for all of us, no matter which phone firm we prefer.