“They told me it was hieroglyph for “love,” explains Carl Pei, “but I call it nonsense. I don’t see it.”
The Gliph design is by far the most striking element Phone (1) design. It’s a series of 900 LEDs scattered and covered by a diffuser to create a unique series of lines and curves under the Gorilla Glass 5 that covers the back of the phone. Aesthetics are a key part of Nothing’s hardware game, and like Ear (1) until then, the device should have no problem standing out in a crowded and balanced category.
The lights flash and pulse with extreme brightness – enough to alert users with epilepsy and an aversion to bright lights. Brightness can be adjusted in the settings, and blinking can be assigned to various functions. With standard brightness maintained for 10 minutes, this should still have a relatively minor impact on the battery. In the center is a 5W coil for reverse charging other devices.
“I think it’s pretty iconic,” Pei says. “You will recognize him all over the room. I know we call it “interface” but the functionality is still a bit limited. We did it on purpose. We just wanted to go out the gate with something simple and then add to that. I hope it becomes more like an interface in the future.”
A striking feature completes what is otherwise a remarkably traditional design. Having used the phone as a daily driver, I am amazed at how similar the hardware is to the iPhone, albeit with minor differences such as the hole-punch camera and notch. “I got feedback,” Pei explains. “It’s the most efficient use of space.” Apple’s design language is a good starting point, of course – much like the Ear (1) has the same profile as the AirPods.
Beyond the novelty of the design aesthetic, Nothing’s true strength lies in its community. It was one of the main factors in the early success of OnePlus, which Pei co-founded eight years ago with current CEO Pete Lau. Loyal fans combined with reliable equipment helped the company to advance in an already oversaturated market. OSOM founder Jason Keats cited Pei’s success in the community as the driving factor behind his company partnering with crypto firm Solana for its first device.
Nothing helped launch its own community with the promise of investor capital — a rather unique approach for a firm that also has a rogue gallery of high-profile VCs, including GV, Tony Fadell, Casey Neistat, Kevin Lin, and Steve Huffman. So the company has raised about $150 million in equity and $65 million in debt, which Pei says is “barely enough” to launch its first phone considering how much the fledgling mobile startup had to shell out to launch the device.
One of the key features of OnePlus that the Nothing lacks is support for BBK Electronics, the Chinese conglomerate behind Oppo’s parent company, as well as competitors like Vivo and Realme. It was a major step forward in a market that has become increasingly difficult to crack as sales have slowed and the market has been dominated by a handful of key players like Apple and Google, crowding out once-important brands like LG and HTC. in the process.
“There is nothing difficult about starting a company,” Pei says. “Overall, this industry has one of the highest barriers to entry. We have huge companies, and they are consolidating. There are a handful of active companies, and large companies tend to be quite bureaucratic, slow and very analytical. It’s no surprise that all products look alike these days. In a typical industry or product category, you also have fresh blood that continues to flow from below. There is no fresh blood in our industry because the entry barrier is very high.”
Some creativity was needed. Along with mass capital, the company also created a limited edition NFT to incentivize backers. His flirtation with such technology naturally met with some rebuff. As Rita recently noticed, an Instagram post about the program was inundated with user comments like: “What a waste of resources for something completely useless. Better focus your money on developing a phone or other technology.”
Pei acknowledges the reaction, noting that some negativity is inevitable. The founder himself is quite optimistic about web3 in general. In past conversations, he described the potential future functionality that such an underlying technology could take advantage of in the mobile space. The phone (1) will get a feel for this, including things like a widget that allows users to view their NFTs on the home screen. The gallery also displays minimum prices.
Pei adds: “Today, I don’t see any value for the customer in building a crypto phone. What are you going to get out of it? I dont know. I would prefer something that we understand, like building a community. I understand why NFT projects have a community around them and we can understand how to use this technology to better manage and work with our community.”
In addition to the standard hurdles of starting a new mobile device company, navigating the supply chain was a real nightmare. Manufacturers were already wary of pinning their hopes on a hardware startup even before much of the industry ground to a halt. Eventually, Nothing partnered with BYD, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer best known for manufacturing automotive components.
“Apple really taught them how to work,” says Pei. “They believe in us. At first, not all factories wanted to work with us. Every startup that has tried to build smartphones in the last 10 years has failed. Every time they failed, their supply chain partners lost money.”
Pei did not give an exact figure for the initial shipment, saying only that the order is in the “hundreds of thousands”. The company ended up taking a few short cuts, such as not getting official IP certification for the device. This means the company can’t officially claim water resistance, but it does say it should be able to withstand daily water impacts such as puddle splashes and rain. In the meantime, the back has been subjected to drop testing, and he adds that if users have any issues with the backlight, they can send it back to the company for repair.
The device is equipped with a mid-range Qualcomm 778G+ chip, which is an odd choice for a company that positions its product as a flagship phone. Pei argues that the company chose the SoC not for cost reasons, but rather because Nothing chose TSMC’s production over Samsung’s. “It was a tough choice because we knew people would be like, ‘Hey, what are you doing? This is not the last. But I think it’s the most responsible choice in the seven episodes.”
However, the company managed to reduce prices. The phone starts at £399 and goes up to £499 at its highest configuration. This places the device in the middle of the pack, and while both Nothing and OnePlus seem reluctant to position themselves as midrange/budget devices, keeping the products well below four figures is undoubtedly part of their broader consumer appeal. The phone sports a 6.55-inch display with a 12Hz refresh rate and a pair of 50MP sensors on the back.
However, unlike OnePlus, the first Nothing phone won’t make it to US shores. The third largest smartphone market in the world is known to be very difficult to crack. Pei says he expects the US to be the company’s “most important” market in the long run, but it simply won’t survive here just yet. While many US consumers have gotten smarter about buying unlocked devices out of contract, carriers still represent a huge barrier to entry.
“You have to work with a major carrier,” Pei says, “they have a lot of influence over you.” The hope, ultimately, is that once the company makes a name for itself, the ball will end up on the side of Nothing. For now, he will have to focus on other markets.
“[India is] a very tech-savvy market,” he says. “They are very good at social media – it’s a very young country. It’s just what we’re good at – social media, working with tech bloggers and YouTubers. Our messages reach India very well.”
The phone’s success will also determine Nothing’s roadmap and the frequency of new product launches. While the company has come out of the gate with an ambitious plan to tackle numerous hardware verticals, its ambitions could fall to the ground if the phone (1) is not successful from the start.
“We have other products in development, but the performance of the phone (1) will really impact plans,” he says. “With Ear(1), we established ourselves a bit so that we could then raise capital for Phone 1, as well as bring in more qualified staff and supply chain partners.”
The phones will also ultimately affect whether the Nothing returns to funding. “We will go and feel the temperature in the market after the launch, when we have all the necessary data, such as sales data,” Pei explains. “We don’t need to take money at any cost. If there are conditions that we consider mutually beneficial for us investors, we are ready to take some more money. It is always good to have cash as a buffer for your business. This makes it more sustainable, but we also have a business plan that does not require additional money.”
Credit: techcrunch.com /