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Why Carl Pei’s Nothing is something to get excited about

Tired of predictable Apple and reliable Samsung? Want to see a new player come along and jazz up the mobile industry? One to watch is Nothing, the confusingly named startup co-founded by one of the people behind OnePlus. Not coincidentally, that was the last brand to really shake up the smartphone world. Here’s why Nothing could really be something.

Nothing?

Yes, the company’s name is Nothing. The genesis of the name according to the firm comes from its desire for “technology to fade into the background and feel like nothing.” It’s co-founded by Carl Pei, who is well-known to mobile tech fans — he has 371,000 followers on Twitter and 95,000 on Instagram — as the co-founder of OnePlus who effectively became the face of the company. Pei left OnePlus in 2020, and announced the formation of Nothing in early 2021.

A close-up of a Nothing Ear 1 Black Edition earbud in its case.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It has released one product so far, the Ear 1 true wireless headphones, which have been well-received due to their strong feature set, low price and eye-catching design. So far, it’s an interesting story but not that unusual in tech. Good as the Ear 1’s are, the world is not hurting for true wireless headphones, regardless of whether they’re in a transparent case or not.

So why pay attention? Nothing has announced it will hold an event on March 23, which it has named The Truth, where it will talk about what the company has planned for the coming year or so. It doesn’t seem like any products will actually be announced, and the best we can expect is a tease of what’s to come, but there are rumors galore that Nothing is making a smartphone.

Building hype around a teaser event where we may only hear about something cool and new is straight out of the OnePlus Big Book of Marketing. Despite knowing this, the announcement has put a smile on my face and the feeling of butterflies in my stomach.

Creative and exciting

To better understand why, we should look back at the formative years of OnePlus. When it started out in 2013, OnePlus was an eager, creative, and often a bit of a wild startup. Its early smartphones were backed up by fierce marketing campaigns that leveraged the community, organically creating a buzz few other smartphone brands have ever achieved. Anyone wanting a OnePlus phone had to take part in competitions in the hope of being given the chance of getting one, Pei launched the OnePlus 2 in virtual reality, the company once encouraged people to break their old phones, and it struck up great partnerships that resulted in desirable limited-edition phones.

The OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition on a beach.
OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition.

It had fun, it created a name for itself seemingly out of very little, and a new OnePlus phone was always highly anticipated. Today, OnePlus is a different company. It’s closer to the BBK Electronics empire than ever before, and although it may “Never Settle,” it has definitely gotten quite Comfortable when it comes to its persona. It’s just that touch more sensible, a bit more corporate. It has a far greater number of products to look after, and a lot more sales to deal with, too, so it’s understandable.

With OnePlus comfortable, Realme has stepped somewhat into its shoes as the quirky startup with great phones at low prices, but it’s almost alone in an industry controlled and focused on massive players, and it still has to toe the corporate line for the bosses at BBK Electronics. There’s a gap for a properly daring upstart that isn’t afraid to do something different, and that’s where Nothing comes in.

Pei was part of OnePlus when it was bucking trends, running those mad marketing initiatives, and unable to keep up with demand for its early phones. It was doing something totally different from any other company. Holding an event to talk about why we should be excited about what’s to come is the legacy of OnePlus at work, and the “Pei Effect” means I’m already on board with it.

Pei was part of OnePlus when it was bucking trends.

In the early days, OnePlus made a lot of noise. but with it came a great deal of hype, and it didn’t always have the ability to live up to it. It’s natural when a company’s just starting out in a competitive space and a consequence of pushing any product to an engaged community. But despite my willingness to buy into Nothing, this knowledge does mean my expectations for what will be revealed during The Truth are in check, and yours should be too. It’s not going to dampen my enthusiasm for now, though.

Business acumen

What about Nothing as a business? It’s fine to generate interest, but how likely is it to deliver? Pei is once again the face of the company, but this time he has experience and has likely learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t. I doubt we’ll see suggestions to break a smartphone this time around, for example, but I am still anticipating unusual, maybe even cheeky promotions, just in a more refined, mature form.

Carl Pei takes a selfie at a OnePlus event.
Carl Pei takes a selfie at a OnePlus event. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There is also a significant team and serious investment behind Nothing. It has raised $70 million in its most recent funding round. Its investors include tech-savvy individuals like iPod inventor Tony Fadell, Reddit’s Steve Huffman, YouTuber Casey Neistat, Web Summit’s Paddy Cosgrove, and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, while Dyson’s former design chief heads design at Nothing. It has a dedicated design hub in London, is working with forward-thinking design studio Teenage Engineering, and has partnered with Qualcomm too.

“Nothing will begin bringing back artistry, passion, and trust to the field of consumer technology,” the company’s website states, and it certainly appears to be a vision people believe in.

There’s something there

In April 2014, just a few weeks before the OnePlus One launched, I wrote about why you should pay attention to the company. It feels strangely similar writing about Nothing today, but with the benefit of hindsight shaping expectation after seeing how OnePlus’ hardware and business evolved. Then there’s knowing it’s something Pei would have been heavily involved in.

It’s because of this, along with thinking back to the excitement generated by OnePlus in the early days, and the lack of a truly daring upstart in the mobile industry today, that I recommend you pay attention to Nothing’s plans. If there’s even a modicum of the same energy, creativity, and drive around designing, marketing, and selling a Nothing smartphone, we’re in for a treat.

Nothing’s The Truth event takes place at 6 a.m. PT/9 a.m. ET on March 23.

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