Carl Pei has Nothing to declare. The OnePlus co-founder has a new phone, the Nothing Phone 1, and while details are currently very, very scarce it's clear that the entrepreneur intends to make a big splash in the best smartphone world.
And that's something that should worry Pei's former firm OnePlus as well as Samsung and even Apple, because that's who Nothing is taking aim at. If you think smartphones are all starting to resemble one another, the Nothing Phone 1 could make things more interesting and tempt away some of their traditional buyers.
According to Pei, Nothing's goal is to effectively do what Apple or Dyson does: to have a suite of products with a very distinct visual identity, and to stand out in a market that's becoming increasingly homogenous. Pei wants Nothing to stand out from the best Samsung Galaxy phones and best iPhones.
Nothing's design director is former Dyson design lead Adam Bates; as Pei told The Verge, Bates brought much of his old team with him "so we probably have one of the best industrial design teams in the world."
I think Nothing has the potential to be, well, something.
Why Nothing matters
Design is really important. It's why Dyson can charge a premium for pretty much everything it makes, and it's a big part of how Apple became the phenomenon it is today. Take the iPod: specs-wise it wasn't as good as rivals, but it was so much better designed; the iPhone lacked some important features but sold like hotcakes. In both cases what you were buying wasn't a spec sheet; it was the overall experience from the packaging to the user interface.
If you look at Android right now, an awful lot of firms are selling spec sheets. I'm an iPhone user and to my eyes it's really hard to distinguish Android phones from one another: they all look the same, they all have the same if slightly tweaked Android, and they all come in with essentially the same specs for each essentially similar price. And that's fine, but it hardly makes the heart sing. So I'd love to see a company coming in with a bold, design-first approach to the whole thing: the hardware, the OS, the entire ecosystem.
Could that be Nothing? It's hard to tell. Right now Nothing is currently a one product company: it makes impressive earbuds called "Ear (1)". We like them a lot: in our Nothing Ear (1) Buds review, we said that as of their launch in late 2021, "you won't find a better pair of affordable noise-cancelling buds". The proposition is simple: great design, great spec, great price.
Nothing is going to be an ecosystem play, and the Nothing Phone is a crucial part of that: it is the hub around which other Nothing products will orbit. And rather than make lots of different Nothing Phones to cover every conceivable market demographic, it looks like the Nothing Phone 1 will be a single model – presumably with great design, a great spec and a great price. By making all the products in its own ecosystem, Nothing hopes to ultimately deliver the same kind of seamless interactions that the current crop of Apple mobile and Mac devices do.
Should we believe the hype? For now, no: we won't see the actual phone until summertime, and until then there's nothing to demonstrate that Nothing will deliver on its promises.
And we have been here before: Android creator Andy Rubin's Essential Phone, now discontinued, is only likely to be remembered for introducing the notch; the brand has since been sold – to Nothing.
But the phone market could do with an injection of excitement right now, as 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 at least the potential to rekindle that.
As another phone firm might put it: maybe it's time to Think Different about what the best Android phone should be.