(Pocket-lint) – Nothing Tech, the new company being driven by Carl Pei, formerly of OnePlus fame, has just announced plans to launch a smartphone. The Nothing phone (1) is due to launch in summer 2022 and was described by Pei as “the beating heart of the Nothing ecosystem”.
There was a promise to make tech exciting again, the promise of a device the likes of which we’ve not seen before.
Yet there’s an obvious disparity here between some of the things that Carl Pei says and what Nothing Tech appears to be doing – and that raises the question of whether Nothing wants to be a hardware company at all?
The message isn’t about hardware products, it’s about an ecosystem. Over and over, we’re hearing about connectivity, we’re hearing about experience.
“We’re building an ecosystem of products that connect seamlessly, if that ecosystem becomes successfully built, then we’re kind of in the background. You don’t feel us anymore because everything just works the way you think it will,” Pei told us in an interview at Mobile World Congress, before the smartphone was announced.
The example that underpins Nothing’s ambitions is Apple’s ecosystem – how one Apple device works seamlessly with another Apple device.
“I think the opportunity we have in front of us is that there’s no alternative to Apple … their ecosystem – all their products work well with each other. But if you leave the Apple ecosystem and look at a Windows PC and a pair of Sonos speakers etc, you don’t have that same integration. That’s what we’re trying to build, that product system and connectivity layer,” says Pei.
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AirPods detect your iPhone and then work with all your Apple devices is the key example, but Apple is finding new ways to have Mac and iPad work together, for example, as it uses its ecosystem to enhance the user experience.
None of this has anything to do with hardware, not really. Apple users know there are better choices our there, better headphones, better speakers – but are there better connected experiences?
Much of what Apple does is put down to Apple designing both the hardware and the software, with those inside talking about the ecosystem advantage and those outside talking about the walled garden.
Pick up something that’s not from Apple and you’ll find the ecosystem crumbles – a Tile tracker, Garmin watch, or Sony headphones – and that’s where Nothing wants to change the narrative. It’s not just talking about Nothing products working with Nothing products, it’s talking about third-party products. Making the best devices out there work better together.
We’ve seen a couple of brands dropped into Nothing’s mixture already. There was Carl’s Tesla in a screenshot shown on stage and that mention of Sonos – and these feel like the sort of brands that Nothing is talking about. They are recognised in tech circles as desirable, but don’t always play nice with others.
We will then build a product ecosystem consisting of both Nothing products and products from other world-leading brands, created to effortlessly integrate with each other.
Finally, we will enhance the user experience through services, while building it all with our community. pic.twitter.com/xcAhgWpvUO
— Carl Pei (@getpeid) March 24, 2022
That then is the challenge: it’s about building something that works cross-platform, that can provide the interface, can build those bridges for a more seamless connected experience.
There’s already millions of Android phones out there, powered by Qualcomm, running Google software – and adding another phone to the mix isn’t going to be much different.
So it’s the software that’s going to shift the needle, the software the defines the experience, the software that has all the value.
Where might this be heading? One thing we know about startups, is many get funded with the aim not of building a big company, but with the aim of being bought by a big company. We can’t help thinking that Nothing isn’t about building the hardware, it’s an attempt to create an experience that’s too valuable to be overlooked.
Writing by Chris Hall.