The Nothing “The Truth” event came and went Wednesday (March 23) revealing… well nothing in particular. But founder Carl Pei painted a picture of a brand that was all about removing the cynicism and clinical nature of consumer technology that’s all about iterative updates and nothing new.
“Consumer tech, how did we let it get so boring,” said Pei. “We’re here to change this.”
That’s quite the claim, but Pei’s vision is for consumer tech to be exciting again and put the users front and center rather than force them to bend to the will of the device maker. Sadly, this wasn’t backed up by a new product reveal — we’d been expecting to see a showcase of the Nothing Phone 1 but it never came.
Instead we got a gloriously odd keynote staring out with a retro video talking about the future coupled with ’70s era sci-fi like synthesized music — big thumbs up from me there — then Pei speaking to the camera in a dark and moody room, coming across like a strange blend of Elon Musk meets Rami Malek’s Elliot from Mr. Robot. There was big “we’re something new and disruptive” vibes without anything being actually shown.
Now it would be easy to dismiss this all as vaporware and a deluge of navel-gazing tech nonsense. But I’m afraid to say I’ve drunk the Nothing Kool-Aid a little.
Something to Nothing
Usually I’m immune to hyperbolic soundbites and claims, but Pei’s rhetoric resonated somewhat with me.
“We’ve all experienced a gap between the future we were promised and the one we’re living in now,” he said. “Today’s product systems are dull, closed and isolated from the people who use them.”
Looking at some of the products in the market at the moment and the lack of interoperability between them — see the myriad number of smart home systems as an example — I can get behind this.
“Tech used to mean momentum, tech used to excite us,” Pei continued. “Today all that excitement, all that possibility around tech, it’s gone. And what have we got instead? Skepticism, apathy — tech companies aren’t on the consumer side anymore and no one is innovating.”
Now I still feel there are some interesting gadgets are around. But looking at the iPhone 13 and the Samsung Galaxy S22 and their very iterative designs and specs, it’s easy to be apathetic toward yet another phone that has a slightly faster chip and mildly improved cameras. There are times I sigh deeply with heavy indifference when I see another iPhone 14 rumor that simply hints at the most mild of updates.
Furthermore, an example of tech being made for the company not the consumer is ever-more apparent. No one loves the iPhone’s notch, but it remains a steadfast part of iPhone design for some four generations. And every time I set up a Samsung phones, I don’t want to be hounded to login with a Samsung accounts; I just want to use my Google account. But neither Apple or Samsung seem to give a damn about that side of my user experience.
Pei reckons his company can be a lodestar for change: “Nothing wants to change this perception of tech to bring optimism back, so tech can stand for progress again, excitement, a better future.”
Normally, I’d call BS here and note that many other companies make such claims on a regular basis. But Pei has a tech pedigree, having co-founded OnePlus, which was once a disruptor in the phones world before it became more of a Samsung-like company in recent years.
And Pei doesn’t want to create another smartphone, but an ecosystem of products that not only complement each other but work with other devices too, something you won’t really get with the likes of Apple’s AirPods or the Apple Watch.
Samsung has arguably tried this on the mobile technology front, but I’ve yet to see many people sport a Galaxy S22 Ultra, a Galaxy Watch 4 and a pair of Galaxy Buds Pro, whereas plenty of people rock an iPhone 13 Pro and AirPods Pro with an Apple Watch 7 on their wrist. So Nothing is positioning itself to be disruptor of the Apple ecosystem, offering an alternative to tech fans who may be tired with Cupertino’s closed system.
That would be a laughable ambition, but Pei acknowledges the challenge. “We are picking fights with trillion dollar companies,” he said. “Plenty before us have tried and plenty more have failed.”
The fact that Pei recognizes this is hopeful, and this gathers my interest. While Nothing hasn’t shown off a phone yet or any other products beyond the Nothing Ear (1) wireless earbuds, I’m cautiously optimistic that the products it comes up with will be worth paying attention to.
For example, a well-made, keenly priced smartphone from Nothing, with a solid specs sheet but an interesting design that’s user centric rather than flush with gimmicks — looking at you macro cameras — would be attention-worthy.
Of course, the realist in me can see Pei and Nothing revealing the Phone 1 later on in the year and it being little more than a slightly different take on the likes of the OnePlus 10 Pro. But Pei’s words, as over-the-top in ambition as his presentation was, said enough of the right things to pique my attention. Nothing may have nothing new to show yet, but there’s definitely something to it.