Smartphone innovator Carl Pei causes much ado about Nothing

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The OnePlus co-founder sees his new phone brand as a competitor for Apple, but so far he has nothing to show for it.

Nothing co-founder and CEO Carl Pei hosted a keynote today (23 March) to tease the company’s first smartphone.

Coming this summer, Nothing’s Phone 1 will run on Nothing OS, a mobile operating system based on Android. It will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile platform.

However, today’s product announcement was notably lacking in product. There was no prototype of the hardware to be seen, leaving observers to muse on what a cryptic graphic might mean for the coming release.

“Having raised $144m, built a team of over 300 people and secured support from trusted partners like Qualcomm Technologies, we are ready for Phone 1 to mark the start of change for the sleepy smartphone market,” said Pei.

“We are also doing a new $10M round of community investment, so that our supporters get the chance to be part of our journey going head to head against the giants of the industry,” he added.

Pei made his name as co-founder of Chinese electronics brand OnePlus, which he started with Pete Lau in 2013. The company’s first smartphone, the OnePlus One, was something of an underground sensation, hailed by Time as the “phone of dreams”.

But it’s not the OnePlus brand that Nothing aims to rival, it’s Apple.

Lauding the US phonemaker, Pei said: “If you want products that connect and work seamlessly together, the only choice is Apple. As soon as you leave that ecosystem for a Windows PC or an Android phone, it breaks down. There is no alternative to Apple.”

However, Nothing is setting out to offer consumers an option on par with the premium iPhone brand. “We’re building the most compelling alternative to Apple,” said Pei.

More details on Phone 1 are expected to trickle in over the coming months as OnePlus took a similar approach to generating a buzz among consumers through a drip feed of viral marketing.

Pei left OnePlus in 2020 to start his new venture, which he announced in January 2021.

Four screens showing the Nothing OS always on mode, widgets, home screen and lock screen side by side.

Nothing OS screenshots. Image: Nothing

Nothing to see here

As well as teasing the Nothing Phone 1, today’s event showcased mere hints of the OS interface with a series of screenshots.

Nothing OS aims to distil Android down to its best, most essential features, plus bespoke fonts, colours, graphics and sounds. A first preview of the operating system will be available to download on select smartphone models from April.

Phone 1 is the second device release to come from Nothing, the first being its Ear 1 wireless earphones released last year.

Nothing is backed by GV (formerly Google Ventures) and others including iPhone co-inventor Tony Fadell, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and YouTuber Casey Neistat.

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