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Nothing brings back the tired old trope of the iPhone killer

Nothing held a press event today where the company released a breath of fresh air into the tired and stale smartphone market. At least, that’s the impression you’d get from the startup’s presentation. In reality, the company showcased little more than the trotting out of tired old iPhone-killer tropes with little substance to show for it.

In a prerecorded presentation, founder Carl Pei went on about how the smartphone needed a wake-up call, and Nothing was the one to do that. He talked about how it would be the best of Android, how it planned to integrate with your favorite services, how it would work with Qualcomm. In other words, Nothing announced yet another Android phone with the pipe dream of taking on Apple’s vertically integrated ecosystem.

Don’t get me wrong, Nothing Ear 1 reviews leave little doubt that Nothing can execute when it comes to hardware, and Pei’s previous products show that he can help direct a small boutique brand. But it takes a lot more than just willing it into existence to take on Apple. Look at Microsoft, Google, and Samsung, for example. All have tried to take on Apple with far more capital, broader installed bases, and ready-made ecosystems — and none have been quite able to replicate it.

Samsung, in the meantime, has learned that the A-Series is where its fortunes lie and where it should refocus all its attention.

You could point out Samsung as one brand that is uniquely successful, but Apple all but controls the premium market. Samsung, in the meantime, has learned that the A-Series is where its fortunes lie and where it should refocus all its attention. The more, the better seems to be the philosophy as it debuted the A53 and A33 last week. The closest analog to what Nothing is trying to do among big tech companies is Google with its Pixel, Pixelbooks, and Pixel Slates. While all are fine products, they have done nothing to shake up the market. As proof, we can see the Android market in 2022 remains dominated by phones which still take cues from Apple’s iOS, even as “stock” Android becomes more like iOS than ever.

Carl Pei stads beneath Nothing Phone 1 logo.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

To be clear, it’s not that Nothing did anything particularly bad. The company has been very imaginative in its designs — the Nothing Ear 1 look very inspired. But let’s talk about what Nothing did not do. It did not debut any modular platform like Motorola’s Z-series or LG’s G5. It did not talk about how its cameras would outpace the competition like with Huawei. It does not offer a novel chip like the Tensor, or a powerful one like the Apple A15. It is not a foldable like the Z Fold 3 or Z Flip 3. It’s not even using a unique operating system like Apple’s iOS. The Android that Nothing is touting is the same Android you can get on a Pixel or Motorola or Nokia phone right now. When Nothing launches its app in the next month, that will even more literally be the case. So what exactly is unique about the Nothing Phone 1?

Here’s an answer: Nothing.

Nothing also has the double burden of being a startup Android brand promising to revolutionize the industry. Remember the Nextbit Robin? The Essential phone?

The smartphone market may need shaking up, it may not. If it does, is creating the dream phone of the r/Android subreddit the best way to do it? The presentation took issue with the smartphone market for being iterative but not creative. What would we call the umpteenth showcase of a phone with “smooth, clean Android, three years of OS updates, four years of security updates” if not iterative? Hey, it works with Teslas and AirPods, just in case you were confused about at whom this phone was targeted.

The smartphone market is mature, not necessarily boring. It’s a lot like laptops or cars. There is room for something new, but change will be gradual and iterative until you look back after a couple of years and realize how far it’s come. But it’s just a bit disappointing that Nothing’s plan for revitalizing the smartphone ecosystem thing was built on a tired trope and a tired Android fanboy wish list. What a nothingburger.

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Michael Allison
A UK-based tech journalist for Digital Trends, helping keep track and make sense of the fast-paced world of tech with a…
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