Nothing’s first smartphone is aimed at Apple, not OnePlus

Nothing will launch its debut smartphone this summer season, its CEO and former OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei introduced immediately throughout a dwell stream. It’ll be referred to as the Telephone 1, run Android, and be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. And sure, it was this telephone that Carl Pei was photographed displaying Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon — albeit wrapped in a privacy-protecting case.

The Telephone 1 would be the firm’s second product following the discharge of its Ear 1 true wi-fi earbuds final yr. A brief teaser trailer launched immediately means that the telephone might have a collection of sunshine strips constructed into its again, whereas a earlier report claimed it might characteristic clear design components like the corporate’s earbuds.

However Nothing isn’t prepared to speak specs or worth. Throughout an interview with The Verge forward of immediately’s occasion, Pei was even coy about what operate these mild strips might serve within the closing system. May we be taking a look at a brand new tackle the notification mild, which was as soon as a typical problem throughout quite a few Blackberry and Android telephones, together with some from OnePlus?

“Perhaps,” Pei teases with a smile.

However on the subject of software program, the CEO is extra forthcoming. Right now, Nothing is releasing a collection of photographs of Nothing OS, the Android pores and skin it plans to ship on the Telephone 1. The pictures don’t reveal a lot about what the software program would possibly be capable of do, however Pei is eager to emphasise its look, which very consciously strains up with the remainder of Nothing’s branding. The interface is a sea of black, white, and purple that leans closely on the dotted font that Nothing makes use of for its brand.

Pei’s additionally very into the sound of the telephone, an space he thinks is usually neglected. “Our sound design is actually cool,” he says, “so undoubtedly examine that out.”

Nothing OS dwelling display screen and widgets.
Picture: Nothing

“A whole lot of organizations have huge silos between completely different groups,” Pei says, explaining how the product crew will usually work individually from the design crew, who’ll be separate from the software program and advertising and marketing groups. Nothing, he says, needs to supply a “singular imaginative and prescient” throughout its gadgets, which looks like it may very well be a problem when the startup already has design groups working within the UK, Sweden, and China.

Nothing’s press launch says the Telephone 1’s Nothing OS will distill Android to “simply the necessities, the place each byte has a objective.” Nonetheless, don’t anticipate the telephone to evoke the ghost of the Important Telephone, though Nothing acquired the rights to the model early final yr. Pei tells me the acquisition was nearly buying its emblems again when “Nothing” might have been referred to as “Important.” Ultimately, although, “we determined Nothing was in all probability higher,” Pei says (cue the “higher than Nothing” jokes).

Nothing’s goal, Pei says, is to create merchandise with a singularly centered design language throughout every little thing from {hardware} to software program in order that there might by no means be any confusion about them coming from one other firm. It’s a tall order in a world of more and more indistinguishable smartphones. Pei cites Dyson’s designs as having the sort of individuality he’d like Nothing to emulate — it’s no coincidence that Dyson’s former design head, Adam Bates, not too long ago joined Nothing to function its design director.

“As a result of [Adam Bates] had a really senior function at Dyson, he’s in a position to convey a variety of his outdated crew with him,” Pei tells me. “So we in all probability have among the best industrial design groups on the planet.” Bates is working alongside Teenage Engineering’s Jesper Kouthoofd and Tom Howard, who’re centered on the high-level route of Nothing’s design.

Whereas the look of the Telephone 1’s Nothing OS is clearly a precedence, what’s extra vital to the corporate is what the system represents: a vital step in Nothing’s try and construct out an ecosystem of interconnected gadgets. The technique isn’t new — Pei talked about it when launching the corporate final yr — however with the disclosing of the smartphone, the ecosystem now has a central system to anchor itself to.

Nothing OS lock display screen.
Picture: Nothing

The always-on show.
Picture: Nothing

The goal right here is much less about competing with different Android telephones like these Pei launched when he was a part of OnePlus. As a substitute, his need is to compete with Apple and the broad ecosystem also known as its “walled backyard.” Pei particularly cites Apple’s spectacular Common Management because the sort of characteristic he’d prefer to see Nothing’s merchandise finally be able to, referencing the WWDC 2021 keynote by which Apple demonstrated dragging and dropping a photograph from an iPad onto an iMac utilizing a 3rd, separate, MacBook — all utterly wirelessly and with none prior configuration.

Much like Apple, whose ecosystem mixes first-party gadgets like telephones, laptops, and true wi-fi earbuds with third-party merchandise through platforms like HomeKit, Nothing plans to provide a few of these gadgets itself whereas counting on integrations with companions to bulk out its ecosystem. So, Nothing needs its telephone to seamlessly management its Nothing-branded earbuds whereas additionally having the ability to management different merchandise like a Tesla automotive or Apple’s AirPods.

Competing with an ecosystem from an organization value greater than $2 trillion, although, received’t be simple. For starters, Nothing doesn’t personal practically as a lot of its personal expertise stack as Apple. A characteristic like Common Management is hard sufficient for a corporation that controls all of the items to drag off, not to mention a startup like Nothing that’s constructing on prime of one other firm’s working system.

Pei doesn’t have a transparent reply for me about how Nothing plans to drag these kinds of ecosystem integrations off, however he thinks the corporate has one thing to lure different firms in.

“I believe we have now a a lot simpler time convincing companions as a result of we assist them do a variety of the work that they’ll’t do themselves,” Pei says. In impact, he sees Nothing as at some point appearing nearly as exterior client tech consultants to firms trying to launch new merchandise, serving to out with every little thing from design to produce chains and engineering. “That is an end-to-end functionality that we’re infusing our companions with.”

Nothing CEO Carl Pei.
Picture: Nothing

The CEO stops in need of saying Nothing will produce white-label merchandise for different firms to promote (“I believe we’re going to be very adamant about fairness possession,” he says after I ask). But when, say, a legacy sports activities model wished to get into releasing wearables, then Pei needs Nothing to be the corporate they may flip to for assist. It sounds loads just like the method that Chinese language tech big Xiaomi has pioneered, which has seen it mix components of company enterprise capital investing with an ecosystem method to rising its formidable firm.

Controlling a complete ecosystem can have its downsides, like the buyer lock-in that comes with Apple’s notorious walled backyard. One of many good issues about an organization that solely produces headphones is that it’s motivated to make its equipment work with every little thing. However that may change should you abruptly begin producing each telephones and earbuds. “[Nothing earbuds] will work higher with the Nothing smartphone as a result of it’s built-in on the system stage and never simply the app stage,” Pei tells me.

Launching a smartphone is one factor, however trying to construct a complete tech ecosystem to compete with the likes of Apple is a good taller order for a corporation that’s solely launched one product to date — particularly when that product, the Ear 1 earbuds, had some tough edges at launch. However though Pei has huge ambitions for Nothing, within the extra fast future, he says the corporate is taking issues one step at a time. Which means the following step is crucial one in every of all: truly launching the Telephone 1.

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