Why OnePlus and the Samsung Galaxy should fear the Nothing Phone

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 the entrepreneur intends to make a splash in the better world of smartphones.

And that’s something Pei’s former OnePlus company should worry about as well as Samsung and even Apple, because that’s what Nothing is aiming for. If you think smartphones are all starting to look the same, the Nothing Phone 1 might make things more interesting and tempt some of their mainstream buyers.

According to Pei, the goal of Nothing is to effectively do what Apple or Dyson do: have a suite of products with a distinct visual identity, and stand out in a market that is becoming increasingly homogeneous. Pei wants nothing to stand out from the best Samsung Galaxy phones and the best iPhones.

Nothing’s design director is former Dyson head of design, Adam Bates; as Pei told The Verge, Bates brought a lot of his old team with him “so we have probably 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 just about everything it makes, and it’s a big part of how Apple became the phenomenon it is today. Take the iPod: spec-wise it wasn’t as good as its rivals, but it was so much better designed; the iPhone lacked some important features but was selling like hot cakes. In either case, what you were buying was not a spec sheet; it was the overall experience from packaging to UI.

If you look at Android right now, a huge number of companies are selling spec sheets. I’m an iPhone user and in my eyes it’s really hard to tell Android phones apart from each other: they all look the same, they all have the same slightly tweaked Android, and they all come with essentially the same specs for each essentially similar price. And that’s fine, but it barely makes the heart sing. So I’d like to see a company come up with a bold, whole-design approach: the hardware, the operating system, the whole ecosystem.

Could it be Nothing? It’s hard to say. Right now, Nothing is currently a one-product company: they make awesome headphones called “Ear(1)”. We really like them: in our Nothing Ear (1) Buds review, we said that as soon as they launch in late 2021, “you won’t find a better pair of affordable noise-canceling headphones”. The proposition is simple: great design, great specs, great price.

Nothing will be an ecosystem game, and the Nothing phone is a crucial part of that: it’s the hub around which the other Nothing products will orbit. And rather than making lots of different Nothing Phones to cover every conceivable demographic segment of the market, it looks like the Nothing Phone 1 will be a one-size-fits-all – presumably with a great design, good specs and price. By building all products in its own ecosystem, Nothing hopes to ultimately deliver the same kind of seamless interactions as the current line of mobile Apple devices and Macs.

Should we believe the hype? For now, no: we won’t see the actual phone until the summer, and until then there’s no evidence that Nothing will deliver on its promises.

And we’ve been here before: Android creator Andy Rubin’s now-discontinued essential phone will likely only be remembered for the notch’s introduction; the brand has since been sold – to Nothing.

But the phone market could use an injection of excitement right now, as good as the latest Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhones are, the magic of a new release is a far cry from what it was 5 to 10 years – and nothing has at least the potential to revive that.

As another phone company might put it: maybe it’s time to think differently about what the best Android phone should be.