I've followed the gradual surfacing of the Nothing brand for the last year or so with interest. Founded by Carl Pei, the original founder of OnePlus, the new London-based consumer technology company immediately peaked my interest as, simply put, I was a huge fan of what Pei achieved with his previous brand.
OnePlus, in a scarily short amount of time really, managed to properly challenge the very finest Android phones on the market, bringing a genuine dose of Apple iPhone hype, style and cult togetherness to a quite dry and disparate Android phone market. During Pei's early years OnePlus phones became known as "flagship killers" and in his last few years heading OnePlus the brand's flagships were challenging the absolute best phones on the market, be that Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max.
But the selling of OnePlus to Oppo kind of took me by surprise as, in many ways, I didn't think the OnePlus journey was quite complete. Pei had produced phones that had gone from "flagship killers" to "bonefide flagships", but elsewhere the OnePlus brand, to me at least, didn't seem to have hit as hard or managed to embed itself in the public consciousness. The OnePlus Watch is no match at all for the Apple Watch, the OnePlus Buds an afterthought for people after the Samsung Galaxy Buds or Apple AirPods, for example.
So, with Nothing, the potential for delivering what I believe is Pei's grand vision, an ecosystem of devices that all are seamlessly connected, natural to use and, crucially, affordable to buy, seems great. The big question is, though, is Nothing really the second coming for the smartphone market and others? Or is it a false prophet that is promising a lot that it can't then deliver?
There's plenty of reasons to think that Nothing could be a game-changer for Android phones and smartphones in general.
Firstly, this is the follow-up firm to OnePlus, which really shook up the Android smartphone market when it appeared. If Nothing can deliver on its goal to deliver a world "where all of your devices are seamlessly connected" with "tech that just works", it's got potential to be huge.
Pei has said that less and less differentiation in tech products like phones have left consumers "passionless about technology", and if Nothing can rekindle that passion I'd expect big things. The cult-like following Pei gathered with OnePlus is evidence that this could be achieved.
Secondly, Pei has said that Nothing Phone (1) will run an Android skin developed by Nothing, called Nothing OS, and that the device will actively target iPhone users. This OS will included "just the essentials, where every byte has a purpose", too, which points to a far more streamlined, focussed experience than what we're used to right now on Android. The appetite for pure Android is well known, but if this can be melded with a distinct new Nothing design language, then it could be like lightning in a bottle.
In terms of design, Pei has hired up former Dyson design executive Adam Bates to create both the Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing OS. That's exciting as Dyson products in each category they entered really stood out from the crowd in terms of look and style. Could Bates be the Android equivalent of Jony Ive? It would be amazing if so, with the disparate and messy Android market unified through design into an iPhone-rivalling product.
Most importantly, though, if Nothing can complete its core mission, which is "to remove barriers between people and technology", then hopefully we can see an ecosystem of products that are accessible in terms of financial cost. The cost of living for most people is going up steeply right now, so the idea that you could live a quality, seamlessly connected tech lifestyle for less money is massively appealing.
The Nothing Phone (1) is scheduled for a summer 2022 release, too, so we're now mere months away from seeing something concrete.
But the fact of the matter is that for all the points made above, we still don't know really anything concrete about Nothing Phone (1) or any other future products the company is going to make.
There's a lot of hype right now about Nothing (and it's fair to say that is earned from Pei's history of achievement to date), but aside from Nothing Ear (1) we've got nothing tangible to draw on.
Nothing Ear (1) got good reviews across the board but nothing exceptional, so it certainly is a possibility that Nothing Phone (1) could end up the same – a well-designed, stylish and affordable Android phone, but one that doesn't disrupt the market the same way the original iPhone did. Nothing Phone (1) could just be good not ground-breaking, another Android phone thrown on the Android phone pile.
Further, there are already plenty of brands that offer perfectly good ecosystems of products at affordable price points, too. Realme, Honor, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and more are already offering tablets, laptops, earbuds, phones and more at budget to mid-range price points, for example.
Now, of course, you could argue that these devices aren't as unified and seamless as the Nothing brand wants its products to be, but can design language and a community focus really transcend Nothing to a higher level and just make everything click? It could, but there's no evidence right now that it will.
We don't want to see it, but Nothing Phone (1) could launch and be just another well designed and affordable Android phone. Obviously that wouldn't be the end of the world, but expectation is so high that it would feel massively anti-climatic as I think there's real desire for the smartphone market to be shook up, as well as for a Apple-style ecosystem of products to be realised that doesn't cost premium prices.
So, the jury is still out...
I personally think Nothing Phone (1) is the biggest launch of the year in the smartphone space. There's potentially so much riding on it for the market and the hype generated by Nothing is building so much now I just can't see past it. I desperately want Nothing to succeed but, for the moment, my enthusiasm is dampened by lack of details.
Hopefully we can learn more about Nothing Phone (1) soon.